Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to the First Resolution, as amended [17th February],
That, whenever the Committee of Supply appointed for the consideration of the ordinary Army, Navy, and Civil Service Estimates
stands as the first Order of the Day on a Monday, Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without putting any question.
And which Amendment was,
After the word "Monday," to insert the words "and the Motion he made, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Beresford Hope.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT,
in view of the numerous Amendments of the right hon. Gentleman's Resolutions, of which Notice had been given, suggested that time would be saved if some agreement were entered into with respect to them. He supported the proposal of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington), that greater latitude of discussion should be allowed on the Report of Supply. In 1864 a Question was put to the Speaker on the subject of the limit of discussion to be allowed on the Report of Supply. According to the ruling of the Speaker, the right of discussion was as large and as open on Report of Supply as it was on going into Committee of Supply. If this really were so, it was plain that any Member could bring forward any subject of debate on the stage of the Report of Supply. Again, in 1857, his right hon. Friend who now represented Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) intended to bring forward on the Navy Estimates a Resolution relating to the general Expenditure of the Government; but when his right hon. Friend was engaged in conversation with Lord John Russell, the First Lord of the Admiralty was adroit enough to slip into Committee of Supply, and the opportunity was lost. The consequence was that his right hon. Friend brought forward his Motion on the Report of Supply, notwithstanding the fact that it was not confined to the particular Votes. If, by the general assent of the House or otherwise, a general Rule was laid down on this point, no doubt a great part of the difficulty might be removed, inasmuch as no Member would be deprived of the Constitutional right of bringing on grievances before Supply was voted. If there was a tendency on the part of the Government to draw the strings tighter 1525 that was all the more reason why Members should not relinquish the privileges they now possessed. If the Rule proposed by the Government were adopted without modifications, what would happen? The Government would have got Mondays, when no grievances could be brought forward at all, and there would be nothing to prevent the practice growing up of passing all the Estimates on Mondays. Thus all the money might be voted without grievances being brought forward. Certainly that was not an arrangement which the House could contemplate with satisfaction. He was one of those old-fashioned persons who thought it was not a good thing to part with Constitutional principles in order to get rid of small inconveniences. It was like a man burning his house down to warm his hands. What was the object held forth in order to induce the House to adopt this change? It was said that if the House went into Committee of the House at once it would have more time to discuss the details of the Estimates. He believed that this was a very great delusion. The time most uselessly spent in this House was that which was devoted to the discussion of the details of the Estimates. In the time of Joseph Hume, when the old system of jobbery and sinecures prevailed, good might be effected by attacking the Estimates in detail; but at the present day the only successful way to reduce the Estimates was by raising questions of principle, which were usually brought forward on the Question "That Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair." It was frequently objected out-of-doors that Parliament talked too much; but, as Lord Beaconsfield once observed, "Parliament" meant an Assembly that was engaged in talk; and it was the discussion of matters of this kind which ripened public opinion, and which prepared the mind of the Government for carrying into effect the objects pointed at in those discussions. The privilege of bringing on grievances before Supply had been a valuable safeguard in former times, and he thought it was so now; and he knew of no circumstances which could induce him to think that the House of Commons would do well to enlarge the powers of the Executive Government at the expense of the authority of Parliament. No doubt the House found itself confronted with 1526 many difficulties. The Government, as far as he could see, had offered no solution of one of these. At present the state of the Notice Paper was such that when a subject of great importance arose there was no means of bringing it before the House, except by the irregular method of a Motion for adjournment. This was a matter to which he thought the attention of the Government might well have been directed. If this Resolution were carried in its present form, and if the Government endeavoured to force on their Estimates on successive Mondays, there would probably be great delay in the discussion of them for the purpose of compelling the Government to propose the Estimates on those days on which general discussions could be raised on the Motion for going into Committee. Thus the Government would not save time, but waste time. Moreover, it was quite certain that many questions would be brought forward irregularly on Motions for adjournment. The immediate effect of shutting one door to discussion would be to open another. This was not a Party question, nor was he at all concerned in supporting the precedent of 1872. It was not a very binding precedent, for it was seven years since it was established, and it had been followed only in three. That did not look as if the House considered it a very good precedent in itself. But once a step of this kind was taken, it was made a precedent for taking another. Thus the precedent of 1872 was made use of for the present purpose. The power to state grievances was said to involve a great Constitutional principle. For his own part, he could not understand a great Constitutional principle which was to apply on Thursday, but not on Monday. This was a question which affected both Parties alike; it was a question of majorities and minorities. A minority ought so to act as if it would one day become a majority, and a majority as if it would one day become a minority. But if they threw all the power into the hands of the Government they would deprive the minority of its legitimate right of discussion. The Government had a very powerful arm in their majority. The minority had also a very powerful arm in their right to object to the policy of the Government; but that was a power which the Go- 1527 vernment sought very seriously to limit. The course of a river was according to the nature of the country through which it flowed; and if it were sought to dam it up, one never knew the amount of mischief which might result. A friend of his bought an estate in Scotland, and there was a stream upon it which he endeavoured to control. He dammed it up, but it overflowed its banks and caused a good deal of mischief, so that at last his friend said, in the bitterness of his heart, that there were only two things he had never been able to manage, and they were a Highland stream and a woman. He (Sir William Harcourt) ventured to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there was another thing as difficult to bank up, and that was the House of Commons. The Government, he held, would have done better if it had left this alone. It was quite impossible that a matter of this kind could be satisfactorily settled merely by a majority. They could depart from the ancient Rules of the House only by general consent. The proposition of his noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) that Members should be allowed to discuss grievances on Report of Supply would go far to reconcile the House to the alterations proposed by the Government. But if there were to be no statement of grievances, either on going into Committee of Supply or on the Report, they would be embarking on a very dangerous course.
complained that the Resolution was intended to put down, not obstruction, but criticism. Nothing was more salutary for Public Departments than to have their acts freely criticized; and to make Motions on going into Committee of Supply was the only way by which private Members could secure the opportunity of criticizing the proceedings of any Administration. If the Government were afraid of discussion of a grievance introduced by a private Member, they had recourse to the expedient of a "count out;" and now they made an attempt, by taking advantage of the outcry raised against obstruction, to pass a Resolution which would put down criticism. We were going through exactly the same phase as they were going through at Berlin. The disease in London was in a milder form. The Chancellor of the Exchequer 1528 could not bring in a gagging Act and play the part of Prince Bismarck on a large scale, so he was playing it on a minor scale, and had brought in a gagging Resolution. It had been said that Ministers in charge of the Estimates found it impossible to make their Statements except at very late and inconvenient hours, owing to the multitude of questions brought forward on going into Committee of Supply. But last year the First Lord of the Admiralty made his Statement at half-past 5, while the Speaker was in the Chair, and other Ministers could do the same if they chose. He was quite aware that the privilege of bringing forward grievances on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply might be abused; but he thought the House might rely upon the influence of public opinion and a man's regard for his own reputation to prevent the discussion of grievances of a frivolous nature. If this Resolution were passed it would lower the character of the House.
MR. J. COWEN
said, he was one of those Members who had been taken somewhat by surprise at the precipitate manner in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had submitted those Resolutions. He was not a Member of the Select Committee that sat last Session, and he had not an opportunity of seeing the Motion that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had put on the Paper until Saturday morning. Since then, however, he had closely followed the discussion on Monday night, had studied the Report of the Committee, and looked through the evidence they took. He gave it as his opinion that the Government would not succeed in accomplishing what they wanted by the changes that were now proposed. Of course, it was only an opinion; but his deliberate judgment was that the Ministers would lose as much time in discussing the Resolutions as they would gain during the Session, even if they were eventually carried and put in force. It behoved Members of Parliament to guard with incessant watchfulness and constant jealousy the Rules under which their proceedings were conducted. These Parliamentary laws were conceived in the interests of free discussion, and framed for the purpose of securing the right of minorities. Many of them were memorials of interesting and impor- 1529 tant historical struggles. They formed a register of successful encounters between representative and arbitrary authority. The House of Commons, therefore, would do wisely in opposing the slightest encroachment upon hardly fought for and dearly cherished privileges. With this general declaration he was willing to admit—as all men familiar with the House of Commons must admit—that great changes had taken place in the conditions under which the legislation of this country was carried on. The work of Parliament had not only increased, but its character had altogether altered. Formerly their debates were limited to discussing the best means by which the Revenue could be levied and expended, settling the relations that had to exist between England and foreign States, and considering occasionally important Constitutional problems. Then talking was confined to these topics. Now their legislation was far-reaching. It entered into the minute ramifications of commercial, civil, and social life. They had taken under their inspection schools and ships, factories and mines. They had covered the country with a network of intricate sanitary regulations. These duties entailed a great increase of administration, and an increase of administration brought a larger amount of legislation. The administrative work of the Government in England had quadrupled during the last quarter of a century. In addition to that, the number of men who took part in the discussions had gradually enlarged. Only 30 or 40 Members in a Session spoke some years ago, now nine or 10 times that number engaged in their debates. All these circumstances pointed to the necessity of some change from time to time in the forms by which their work was guided. Another and more subtle, but still a potent influence was at work, which affected their doings. A few years ago the Members of the House of Commons consisted of sons and relatives of the aristocracy, country gentlemen, professional men, barristers, officers of the Army and Navy, and old and retired men of business. They might not have a uniformity of opinion; but there existed amongst them a uniformity of manners, of feeling, and of custom. They were all drawn from the same social strata. They had now a more extended suffrage—enfranchising not 1530 only the trading but the artizan classes—and this had slightly so far, but ultimately would largely, affect the composition of the House. The new Members representing a more democratic section of the State had sentiments and feelings not altogether in common with other classes, and a great deal of the friction—political and personal—that they had experienced in recent Sessions had unquestionably been produced by the imperfect mingling of these new elements. He admitted all this, and any reasonable proposal on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to adapt the Rules of the House to the constantly shifting phases of Parliamentary life he had no objection to; but he would resist, stoutly and strenuously, any attempt to infringe upon the sacred privileges of English Parliamentary existence—the redress of grievances before the granting of Supplies. The Resolution proposed struck at the foundation of this principle. It was not a large concession that was asked, it was true. It only affected one day of the week; but if it were granted, other and further demands would follow. The only course for the independent Members was to meet the proposition with uncompromising resistance at the start. It was no use their concealing from themselves the reason why these Rules were proposed. The Government thought the progress of Business had been interfered with by the active criticism of the Irish Members. What was called the obstruction of the Gentlemen who sat below the Gangway had disconcerted the Ministerial arrangements. These new Rules were framed for the purpose of weakening the power of resistance of the Gentlemen who sat around him. He begged to point out, however, that they aimed at a matter that really they had no grounds of complaint with. The obstruction—if such was to be the word used—applied to Votes in Committee; but there was no attempt to alter the power of resistance there. What the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to do was to prevent Members raising discussions on principles of policy before the money was granted. So far as he was concerned, he would say that whatever might be the result, he would never vote for any infringement of that law. He thought the very moderate Amendment that had been suggested by the noble Lord the Leader of the Oppo- 1531 sition might be accepted, and with that the Government ought to be content.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
said, there was one view of the subject which had not, he thought, been fairly laid before the House. The point at issue was not, as had been put by the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), whether there should or should not be free discussion, but whether discussion should be controlled by legitimate Rules; because, if the argument of his hon. Friend who had just spoken were carried to its logical conclusion, the House must go back to the time when on the presentation of every Petition a speech might be made. If they were not to have Rules, their discussions would not be free but simply unruly and disorderly. Why was a Committee appointed last year? Why, because a revision of the Rules was felt to be necessary. In supporting some change, he did not do so in order that the Government might have more power, but in order that their discussions might be properly regulated. He had listened, he might add, with the greatest respect and attention to the observations which had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), who seemed to argue that on the Report of Supply there should be some such latitude of discussion as in the case of the Appropriation Act. There was much, he thought, to be said in favour of that proposition, and it might be made the basis of a compromise with general consent. But when his hon. and learned Friend went on to speak of the undesirability of altering Constitutional principles in order to get rid of certain inconveniences, he appeared to regard those inconveniences hardly in the light in which they were viewed by public opinion. Hon. Members did not possess those privileges with which they seemed so loth to part in order that they might be individually exalted, but as trustees for the people who sent them to Parliament, in order that they might be protected in the discharge of their duties, and in the due transaction of the business of the people. The moment, therefore, that they began to look upon them from a merely personal point of view and availed themselves of them to obstruct the progress of Business, then they became really not in the true sense of the word sticklers for privilege, 1532 but men whose action tended to imperil it, because they would make "privilege" unpopular in the country, and people out-of-doors would begin to ask themselves the natural and pertinent question, for what reason was it that these privileges had been given to Members of the House of Commons? There were many good things in the world, excellent in their use, but which became most mischievous in their abuse. For instance, Constitutional liberty was a thing of priceless value; but when it degenerated into unfettered licence, it might come to work as much evil against the welfare of a community as the worst form of despotism. So it was with the privileges of the House of Commons, with regard to which, if they were made use of for the purpose of impeding the Public Business, the question would be asked why hon. Members possessed them, or whether they ought to possess them in the same degree as at present? His hon. and learned Friend had pointed out that if the Rule under discussion were adopted the Government might run through all the Estimates on a Monday, and that that might turn out to be a great evil. In that case, said his hon. and learned Friend, Members would resort to all kinds of expedients to bring forward their grievances, and would harass the Government in order to oblige them to place Estimates on the Paper on other days than Monday in order to effect this object. But did not this argument of his hon. and learned Friend answer itself? The moment the Government sought to take undue advantage of this Rule, the consequences pointed out might ensue. But knowing that this would be the case, the Government, he felt sure, would take very good care not to abuse this Rule, and only to employ it for its legitimate purpose of facilitating the due transaction of the Business of the House. If ever they attempted to take any advantage of the House, they would find the public opinion too strong for them. He would not go into the question as to whether the custom of moving Amendments on going into Supply was an old one or not, though his hon. and learned Friend had no doubt been correct in stating that the custom began about the year 1811. The present proposed alteration was brought forward not on the mere Motion of the Government, 1533 but as the result of many Parliamentary Committees. No fewer than three Speakers of the House, as well as many other eminent personages, had agreed in stating that of late years the enormous increase in the number of irrelevant Amendments moved on the House going into Supply, not by one individual or one body of individual alone, but by all sections of the House, was such as greatly to impede the Public Business and to necessitate alteration. He hoped the House would in some form or other pass the Rule, because he believed it would tend not to impair, but to preserve, the privileges of the House. His noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) had made the offer of a concession; and he thought it would be well for all parties if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could see his way to its acceptance. But, in any case, it was not creditable to waste time in discussing a matter so easily understood; and he hoped they would show that they were really a business House, by permitting in some shape or another a settlement of this question.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) rests his hopes of regulating the Business of the House upon the support of public opinion; but he must be aware that there is a section who have upon this subject openly defied the public opinion of the House during the last three Sessions. The Committee upstairs was bound to take that fact into its consideration, because it was appointed with reference to the continuance of that system of obstruction. I wish to recall to the attention of the House that this is not a new subject. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) adverted to the precedent of 1857; but he must remember that in 1861 there was a Committee of Public Business, presided over by Sir James Graham, because the discussions of the House had become frivolous, multifarious, and irrelevant. He has totally omitted to mention that the effect of the recommendations of that Committee was that Friday was appointed for such discussions as he desires to promote, and that the Government were enjoined to place Supply for Friday, in order that hon. Members of this House might have an opportunity of bringing forward for its consideration whatever subjects they 1534 wished. That arrangement was made subsequent to the precedent of 1857, to which the hon. and learned Member has referred. The real fact of the case is—as anyone who will read the Evidence may see—that the House of Commons felt that its character, its weight in the country, its position as an Estate of the Realm, was being imperilled by the introduction of these multifarious subjects of debate. Another opportunity had been given to hon. Members for obtaining information when the whole system of Questions, with which our Sittings commence, was inaugurated in 1861. The whole tendency of the arrangements in this House has been in favour of giving increased opportunities for discussion to the non-official Members of this House; until we have come to such an abuse of that privilege—we have seen these facilities so much taken advantage of—that the character of this House as a Legislative Assembly is again endangered. When the Committee of the last Session made a recommendation that the Government should have Monday evening for Supply without any discussion or your, Sir, leaving the Chair, they proposed that the same restriction should be placed against discussion on the House going into Committee on Ways and Means. The right hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Dodson) thought, and I agreed with him, that that would be placing Monday at the disposal of the Government to too great an extent; and I am glad that Her Majesty's Government have given up the proposal to bar general discussion before going into Committee of Ways and Means on Mondays. My own belief is that this House is endangering its position in the eyes of the country by undue discussion upon minor and multifarious subjects. I have heard from persons out-of-doors, over and over again, that unless the House of Commons succeeds in putting down the system of obstruction, to which it was subject for three successive Sessions, it would fall in the estimation of the country, and that the other Estates of the Realm would be invested with undue power. I ask Members of this House, do they wish to hand over their real power of legislation to the House of Lords, or do they wish to see it monopolized by the. Crown? If the House of Commons intends to retain its position as the most powerful element in the Constitution, it must convince public 1535 opinion by regulating, limiting, controlling, and elevating its debates—that it merits the great trust which has hitherto been reposed in it.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
submitted that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire's (Mr. Newdegate's) argument was not consistent with the facts of the case. The Resolution did not touch anything in the shape of obstruction, such as had been alleged against hon. Members on that side of the House; and he thought it unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman should have entered upon an irritating topic, which was better kept out of the way until the time came when it must be discussed, which would be when the second Resolution was placed before them. He ventured to assert that no peculiar obstruction had been offered by Irish Members on Motions for going into Committee of Supply. This Resolution was directed to that; and, as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had stated, it had been under the consideration of the House for years before several of his hon. Friends around him, and against whom the charge of obstruction was levelled, entered the House at all. The matter was one which, in his opinion, ought to be approached very quietly and very seriously. There were few hon. Members who would not admit that there was great inconvenience caused by a Minister being kept waiting night after night to introduce the subject of Supply. And when he did obtain an opportunity of bringing forward the subject, his statements were frequently made to very small and dead Houses in consequence of the discussions that had preceded them. Could not that evil be met without abrogating the real privileges of the House of Commons? He believed that it could well be done. The proposition, moreover, before the House was not the original proposition of the Government. The Government asked much more than it was prepared now to take; and, while looking at that which they insisted on, they could not forget that what they did originally ask would seriously, in the opinion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, have crippled the privileges of the House. For his own part, speaking as an individual Member, he thought that if the Government would accept the proposal 1536 to permit discussion on the Report of Supply, it would go a long way to meet the objections felt by many Members to the Resolution. But if that concession were made, it must be done thoroughly, and the Report must not be taken, as it was taken now, at a very late hour of the night. It must be taken as part of the Business of the House, and as regularly as possible. He was far from believing that hon. Members should give up any of their privileges with respect to the introduction of all manner of personal questions and grievances of the people in going into Supply. On the contrary, he thought that there never was a time in the history of this country when it was so necessary for the House of Commons to preserve that power. Centralization was going on in every direction, and year by year the House was giving up its privileges to right hon. Gentlemen, the Representatives of Departments. Only last Session they gave up the management of prisons to the Home Secretary. That right hon. Gentleman knew very well that throughout the country there had been very disagreeable and painful discussions as to what had taken place in that direction. Having deprived the country of that important part of the administration, were they going to shut the mouth of the House of Commons and prevent hon. Members from bringing forward grievances in connection with that subject? At the present moment, if anyone went into the prisons of the country, he would see an army of warders bearing the effigy of the Royal Crown. This was something perfectly new in the country, and being so, it was not wholesome to make such a change. It was not desirable that the Crown should be brought into direct connection with the administration of prisons and every other part of the usual system of the country. But that was the policy of the Government, and he would ask hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House to consider that when they came to give their votes on this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had been making use of some of his leisure time in reading Burke on the French Revolution, and had given the House an admirable resumé of the principles of liberty and licence contrasted with each other. But the question before them 1537 was neither that of liberty nor of licence; it was simply a practical question as to how the Business of the House should be carried on. And such a question should be debated quietly, and in a business-like manner. Suppose the Government obtained what it desired, and the House went into Committee of Supply on Monday, they would, he trusted, obtain from the Minister bringing forward the Estimate a more full account of the finances connected with his Department than they had been in the habit of receiving. But would they obtain a fuller discussion of the Estimates themselves by the adoption of this Resolution? Suppose Supply was moved by a Minister at half-past 5 o'clock, and at 7 o'clock, when the discussion of the Estimates came on, where would the House of Commons be? Would 10 Members remain in the House during the time they were in the habit of taking for dinner? If Supply were brought on at 5 o'clock, he believed there would be a smaller discussion of the Estimates than under the present system, so that he was not clear in his own mind that the professed object of the Government—namely, to obtain a fuller discussion of individual matters of Supply—would be obtained by "this measure. Moreover, if the privileges of hon. Members were curtailed, those who felt themselves aggrieved would avail themselves of every opportunity left to them to the uttermost. For his own part, he could wish some compromise were made by the Government, such as that proposed by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, accompanied by a promise to take the Report of Supply at an early period of the evening. If that were not done, he should feel it his duty to move the adjournment of the House on frequent occasions when not prohibited by the Rules of debate. There was another consideration deserving attention. The very fact that grievances could be brought forward on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply frequently obtained their redress. He had seen grievances redressed without even their being brought forward at all. One noticeable case was that of a very cruel grievance perpetrated by a right hon. Gentleman on this side of the House. His Colleagues disapproved of the action of the particular Minister in question, and a Motion 1538 was put on the Paper to call the attention of the House to the subject before going into Committee of Supply. The Motion was postponed several times while negotiations were going on, but was not removed until such pressure was brought to bear by the Primo Minister himself that the grievance was redressed. The Motion was, therefore, never brought forward at all. If private Members were deprived of the opportunity of bringing forward grievances of the people, subjects of the Crown would be deprived of the opportunity of redress from the fear of Ministers when they were in the wrong. The House was gradually giving up everything to the Government of this country, and was gradually abrogating, as it seemed to him, that Constitution by means of which they had grown into a great and free people. He had road the other day that in Burmah the Constitution was abrogated by the King, who was stated to be an amiable young man, only at times he had a disagreeable habit of pricking with his spear anybody he disliked. He feared that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was like the King of Burmah, for he wished to prick some of his (Mr. Mitchell Henry's) own Friends with his spear; but, in doing so, he forgot that he was abrogating the Constitution of this country. The subject would certainly not be easily disposed of, unless the Government would give bon. Members some compensation for depriving them of the privilege of bringing on grievances before Supply. Surely, if the object of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were merely to get his Supply taken in a proper and orderly manner, without interfering with the privileges of the House of Commons, he should yield to the proposal of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman could not be placed in a worse position by so doing, and would besides obtain the sympathy of many of those who might otherwise feel it their duty to oppose to the utmost a loss which they could not repair. The Rule could be tried during the present Session; and as all these matters were tentative and experimental, he trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would see the wisdom of accepting the proposal made by the noble Lord and acquiesced in by a 1539 strong minority on both sides of the House.
§ COLONEL ARBUTHNOT
said, although he had a Notice of Motion on going into Supply on the Army Estimates, which would take precedence of all others, he was one of those who attached so much importance to the Estimates coming on and being explained at a time when there was a full attendance that, even to his own loss, he should feel inclined to support the proposal of the Government. No doubt some assurance would be given that Supply would not be put down for every Monday night in the Session. A further assurance might be given that the Government would not take more than one evening in the week for each class of Estimates. He hoped they would not agree to the proposal to have free discussion on the Appropriation Bill, which came on in the middle of August.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
said, he could corroborate what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), and from the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), with respect to the inutility of discussing in the House the details of the Army Estimates; for he could assure the House that by no class of persons were these discussions regarded with more indifference—he might almost say with more ridicule—than by the officers of the Army. The part the officers looked upon with interest was the opening Statement of the Secretary of State for War, in which his military policy was stated. There they learnt all that it was important for them to know. Any subsequent discussion was generally maintained by a small class of crotchety persons, and was of no great interest to the Army. The carrying out of the suggestion that a printed paper explanatory of the Estimates should be supplied would be a great facility. He hoped some steps would be taken which would prevent waste of time.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, they had had several Committees on this subject, and he recollected especially that the right hon. Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) was Chairman of the Committee of 1872. The right hon. Gentleman began by proposing to that Committee that when Supply stood as the first Order of the Day, not only on Monday but also 1540 on Thursday, the House should go at once into Committee of Supply without any discussion whatever. What happened? Another right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) immediately said —"No, that will not do. What we will do is this—we will give you Monday, and not Thursday." The reply of the Committee to that was this—"No; we are not going to be ruled by the two front Benches." The Committee then proceeded to discuss the subject, and the outcome of the whole was that the House adopted the Rule which gave power to Members to move grievances upon subjects relevant to the Estimates proposed upon Monday, and Monday only. He entirely disagreed with the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), when he said that that was a bad Rule—that it did not work well. The hon. and learned Member had quoted strong authorities; but he had given none so strong as the Speaker's. When the Speaker was asked whether the Rule of 1872–3 had worked well, he replied—I am bound to say that the balance of my opinion is in favour of adopting the Resolution of the House of 1872, and mainly upon the ground that that is a Resolution which has been tried and approved.Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not successfully deal with this question unless he obtained a consensus of opinion; and what he ventured to suggest was—let the right hon. Gentleman try a solution in that direction. There were many proposals down on the Paper, and there were several pointed in this quarter; and he believed if the Chancellor of the Exchequer reverted to that which had been tried with success he would be able to carry his point. No doubt, there was the objection that a Minister would not be able to make his Statement when he came down to the House; but that was a minor consideration when the privileges of the House were concerned. He thought the House would maintain those privileges by adopting the Rule of 1872.
§ MR. RYLANDS
wished, in the first place, to tell the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) that he could not treat this question as one between the present Government and the last. It was a most unreasonable argument to advance that because a particular Committee in 1541 former years had recommended a Resolution which infringed the privileges of private Members, that was a sufficient authority for giving something up on the present occasion. What were Parliamentary Committees in former years? They were so constituted that Members of the Government then existing, or right hon. Gentlemen who had been in the previous Government, or hon. Gentlemen who expected to be in the next Government, formed or controlled the majority of the Committee; and, of course, right hon. Gentlemen, under those circumstances, were very ready indeed to recommend Resolutions which they must have felt would be very convenient to them in the administration of the affairs of the Government. He was delighted to hear his hon. and learned Friend (Sir William Harcourt) enforce the same views as he himself endeavoured to state on Monday—that this was not a time when the House should give up its power of controlling the Executive. He (Mr. Rylands) said that when they were in the position of having sprung upon them now lines of policy, when they found the Government taking steps which involved the expenditure of large and almost untold sums of money, when they undertook to bind the country to serious responsibilities without first giving Parliament an opportunity of being consulted, he said that this was a period when, of all others, hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House should resist every infringement of the rights of Parliament. But he might remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that the time might come when a Government might be seated upon that Bench who might exercise the power of the Executive in another direction, and in a manner which would be equally disagreeable to the Conservative Party, as the part the Government had taken was distasteful to the Liberals. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must not suppose that the present Conservative Government was going to last for ever, because it might not last for many years; and, at all events, it was certain the time would come when, under the change which had taken place in the Constitution of this Kingdom, they would have a very strong element of democracy represented upon the Government Bench. They would, perhaps, have Members of the Government who would be disposed to make use of the 1542 Executive power in a manner which would be disastrous to the country; but now, at the bidding of the present Government, in which they had confidence, the House was asked to give up one of the most powerful weapons which, perhaps, the Conservatives might then wish to use. He thought it was the most dangerous thing in the world to trifle with the rights of Parliament, simply because there had been circumstances in the House which were described as obstruction. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had, he thought, without any justification, alluded to the circumstances of the last and previous Sessions as a reason for the proceedings in connection with this Resolution, lie (Mr. Rylands) disputed entirely that these circumstances had anything to do with the Resolution they were discussing at the present moment, because it was a Resolution which had been brought forward by previous Governments, and discussed by previous Parliaments, before obstruction ever took place. But even if it were so, he warned the House not to allow a temporary circumstance, which was probably not a lasting state of things, to induce them to change so materially the position in which private Members were placed in this House. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) said the way to preserve these privileges was to make proper use of them; but he did not show how they were to make a proper use of their privileges by giving them up. If he properly interpreted the right hon. Member's language, he meant to convey that novel idea. That was the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, and he entered into an elaborate argument to show how they were to preserve the privileges of the House; and the conclusion of that argument was that he would consent that these privileges should be withdrawn from thorn. He (Mr. Rylands) did not hesitate to say that if they accepted this Resolution as it stood, the result would be eminently unsatisfactory. He was not prepared to say that the power of proposing Motions on the Report of Supply would be a satisfactory solution; but he would prefer that concession to having nothing at all. But he did not want to move from the present position of things, and he did hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although he had a majority 1543 at his back, would not press upon a reluctant House, against the opinions of independent Members on both sides, a change of such a very violent character as that which was embraced in the Resolution which had been laid upon the Table. If that Resolution were passed in its present form, he did not hesitate to say they would be driven into one or two positions. One would be that they would find they had lost, without any power of remedy, a great advantage which they had possessed; the other position would be that they should be easting about to see how, by straining the forms of the House, they could make up for that withdrawal of their privileges. The effect would be that they would seek some inconvenient and new method of bringing forward, under the attention of the House, questions which they considered of importance. He was quite sure that if they had not the power to raise questions of principle and policy upon going into Supply, it would be necessary, to a much greater extent than had hitherto been the case, to criticize the Estimates with the view of raising general questions of policy. That would be a very inconvenient mode of discussing the Estimates, which he hoped they would not be drawn into. Motions for the adjournment of the House would also be more frequent, and other means would be taken which, in an inconvenient manner, would serve the purpose of those who wished to question the policy of the Government. He would again express a hope that the Resolution would not be pressed in its present form, against the opinion of so many hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, the Resolution before the House was aimed at obtaining a better mode of conducting the Public Business; and though it was true that, owing to the skilful manner in which the Estimates were drawn, hon. Members had no difficulty in hitting upon items which they wished to have struck out, there could be no doubt that the House did more good by preventing objectionable items creeping into the Estimates than by striking them out after they had got there. Therefore, he thought it important that the power of Members to bring questions forward on Supply should be retained; and he hoped the Chancellor of 1544 the Exchequer would be able to see his way to accepting the proposition of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House must have seen that there was a willingness on the part of the majority of hon. Members to assist him in making progress with his Estimates; and he would, therefore, do well not to take any course likely to produce a feeling of irritation in the House.
§ MR. SYNAN
contended that the Committee of last year was appointed for the express purpose of devising means to put down obstruction, and the evidence mainly related to that subject. But the Resolution now before the House did not point to obstruction, but aimed at the rights and privileges of the Members of this House—one of their principal rights—rights which this House held as trustees for the people. Various remedies had been suggested for facilitating the progress of Public Business; but he warned the House of the serious consequences that would follow if they gave up the privilege aimed at by the present Resolution. If such a Resolution were passed, hon. Members would cease to have a locus standi on the most important question that could occupy the attention of the House, and upon which it might be truly said that the existence of this House depended—namely, the redress of grievances.
§ MR. WALTER
said, there was nothing for which he could be more grateful than an intelligible definition of the word "grievance"—a word which in this debate had been used more frequently than any other. He had sat about 30 years in the House; and in former days, when Motions were interposed between the Government and Committee of Supply, they generally related to grievances, or alleged grievances, of a personal and substantial character, which had been sustained by some person or persons at the hands of the Government of the day, or to some palpable abuses of which the Government had been guilty. Now, however, the word seemed to have a totally different meaning, and to signify "that which causes grief to any person whatever." As he understood the matter now, every hon. Member was at liberty to introduce, in the form of an Amendment to the Motion for Committee of 1545 Supply on a Government night, any question he chose, and to make as long a speech as if he were himself introducing a Bill on the subject. This was an entirely novel practice as far as his experience was concerned; and while he would deprecate any attempt to curtail the privileges of the House as far as the discussion of real grievances was concerned, he thought there was great force in all that had been urged on the part of the Government in favour of preventing the time of Parliament being occupied and Public Business delayed by the ventilation of alleged grievances which were, in fact, no grievances at all.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the proposal to withdraw the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) had given occasion for a general discussion, which was not, he thought, an inconvenient one, on the whole principle of the Resolutions to be proposed. It was, in his opinion, well that they had had an opportunity of taking, in the way they had been doing, the general sense of the House upon the first Resolution, and in a general sense upon the principle of all the Resolutions, inasmuch as it must tend to shorten the discussion upon them. He desired to repeat that the Resolution which he had brought forward was not a proposal which was made by the Government in support of encroachment, or of an attempt to take away the privileges of the general body of the House. It was a proposal which emanated not from the Government alone, but from a Committee of 17 Members appointed last Session, and comprising a very decided majority of Gentlemen who neither had been nor were in Office. The Resolutions which he had put upon the Paper, in their original form, were exactly in the language in which they were approved of by the Committee as it concluded its labours. A great deal of misapprehension appeared to prevail as to the circumstances which led to the appointment of that Committee, and as to the motives with which it had been nominated. Some hon. Members seemed to think that it had been appointed for the purpose of dealing with what was called obstruction. That, however, was not the case; and if hon. Gentlemen would bear in mind the line which he 1546 had himself taken on the subject, they would see that that could not be so. The object with which that particular Committee was appointed was to consider recommendations which had been made by Committees in former years—many of them three or four times over—as well as any other recommendations which might be offered, and to say which it was really desirable to bring to the test of a vote in the House. It did certainly happen that in the course of the proceedings of the Committee, after it had been appointed, circumstances led to its Members turning their attention much more to the question of obstruction than it was originally intended to do. But with regard to the original purpose with which the Committee was appointed, that was not the meaning of its nomination. The Government desired to see how and in what way the conduct of Business in the House could be improved. They had heard a great deal of the proper privileges of Parliament and of the great functions it had to discharge. He should like hon. Members to make up their minds as to what these were, and whether the House was a place for indefinite talk, to be no more kept within bounds than was a river which was not to be banked up. Was that to be the case, or were they to conduct the Public Business according to Rules which would be likely to enable them to get through it with reasonable facility? The House of Commons had a not inconsiderable amount of Business to deal with, and that Business could only be carried through in accordance with regulations. No doubt, where there was only a small amount of work, they could dispense with Rules more easily than under other circumstances; no doubt, where there were only a small number of Gentlemen who took part in debates, it would be much more easy to get on. But the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen)—though he was sorry for the conclusion at which that hon. Gentleman had arrived—hit the nail on the head, when he said that matters in the House of Commons were not now as they were at the beginning of the century. That was so for two reasons—first, they had a wider range of subjects to deal with; and, next, 10 times the number of Members took part in debate as compared with the former period. If the House made no change which would enable 1547 the Minister to get into Committee at once and make his Statement, they were placed in the difficulty both of keeping the Minister for a great length of time and of bringing about an irregular discussion of points which perhaps it would be found unnecessary to raise, or to raise in the same way, if his Statement had not been delayed. Several fallacies had been mentioned in the course of the conversation which had taken place. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) had stated that last year his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty has made his annual Statement before the Speaker left the Chair. That he would, on reference, find not to have been the case. Other hon. Members, again, appeared to think that if the power of moving Amendments on going into Committee of Supply were done away with, they would lose the very valuable privilege which enabled them, on an emergency suddenly arising, to challenge the policy of the Government. In that view he could not concur. If an hon. Member desired to challenge the conduct of the Government on an occasion of importance and urgency, and to do so on going into Committee of Supply, he might, on coming down to the House, find 20 Notices having precedence of his. But if an appeal were made to the Government to give facilities for the bringing forward of such a question, if it were really one of interest which attracted the notice of the Whole House, the necessary facilities would, no doubt, be granted. There were other modes besides in which such a matter could be brought forward. The power and the ingenuity of the House were quite sufficient to make a way for the discussion of any question that required immediate consideration. What the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had said was perfectly true. They were there to consider the practical question of how the Business of the House was to be carried on; and he would ask him and other Members to consider whether the Resolutions that had been proposed would not assist the House in conducting its Business, for they would largely economise time. The Government were not in a position of antagonism with the House in this matter. They were on the same side with the House. Their sole object was to get through the Business of the House, and to do so with the 1548 greatest economy of time and labour. The Resolutions of the Committee of last Session had been modified by taking out the words "Committee of Ways and Means "—an alteration which left a considerable opening of which Members might avail themselves. They had made another alteration on the suggestion of the noble Lord opposite (the Marquess of Hartington), excluding special or Supplementary Votes from the operation of the Rule; and so it would be seen that the opportunities of hon. Members to bring forward Motions would not be unduly restricted. The House might be perfectly sure the Government, for their own sake, would not abuse the Rule. If they did, the House would have the remedy in its own hands. The Rule, he might point out, would have the incidental advantage of rendering less frequent the necessity for Votes on Account; and, by making certain the days on which Supply would be taken, would probably tend to diminish the number of Amendments now put down on the Motion to go into Committee of Supply, and which, in many instances, were put down there instead of on particular Votes, merely because of the uncertainty as to when those Votes would be taken. The Government was most anxious to adopt anything which appeared to be consistent with the general feeling of the House. They quite felt that in these matters, unless they had the great majority of the House with them, their objects would not be attained. He had been especially anxious to meet the views of the noble Lord opposite (the Marquess of Hartington), and had done so the other day to some extent with perfect goodwill; but he did not quite see his way to accept the suggestion which the noble Lord had just thrown out. He quite understood that his object was that greater latitude should be taken for the discussion of grievances on the Report of Supply; but it was not necessary to formulate any Resolution on the subject, and it would perhaps be sufficient to point out that discussions might be taken on the Report, which would supply the place of debates when going into Committee. It was difficult to say what was the nature of the discussions which might take place in that case; but if a new Resolution were necessary on the point, it would be for the House to say whether it ought to be brought in.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
suggested that it would be for the convenience of the House if the Speaker would state what the Rule really was in regard to the Report of Supply.
§ MR. SPEAKER
In answer to the question of the right hon. Gentleman, I have to state that the established Rule of debate is that the observations of hon. Members should be relevant to the Question put from the Chair. There is one exception to that Rule, and that is when a Motion is made that this House resolve itself into Committee of Supply. Upon that occasion irrelevance of debate—that is to say, debate not relevant to the subject matter proposed to be discussed in Committee—is allowed; but I am not aware of irrelevant matter, generally speaking, being allowed upon any other occasion. No doubt, considerable latitude of discussion has been allowed occasionally on the Report of Supply; but I know of no instance where an irrelevant Amendment has been allowed on the Motion that Resolutions adopted in Committee of Supply be read a second time.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said that, while he was perfectly willing to acknowledge the readiness with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had accepted so much of the suggestions made on a former occasion as he thought would be for the advantage and convenience of the House, he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not been able to take a favourable view of the proposal as to the moving of Amendments on the Report of Supply. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that, in practice, there would be no risk of matters of urgent importance failing to obtain discussion, and that the Government would offer facilities for the purpose. It was perfectly true that the Government were always ready to offer facilities for the discussion of any Motion which impugned their conduct and which seemed to have the support of a considerable section of the House; what he thought the right hon. Gentleman did not perceive was that there might be various occasions upon which it might be extremely desirable that a discussion should take place and explanations given without any Motion being upon the Paper. He did not know that the Government would on all occasions be 1550 so ready to offer facilities for such discussions—discussions which, nevertheless, might be alike necessary and important; and it was to meet such cases that his suggestion was thrown out. What he wished to point out was that on such an occasion as that to which lie referred, weeks might elapse before a Member obtained an opportunity of raising a question or making a Motion. He had now that opportunity. A Member knew that the Government could not get their Supply until he had an opportunity of bringing forward his question. If the Resolution of the Government should be sanctioned, the Government might put off Supply on Thursdays for some time with a view of preventing a discussion of a disagreeable topic. As to his own proposal, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said he was not quite sure what it was; but if it were put in the form of a Resolution, it would take the same form as his suggestion to the Committee—Provided that any question may be raised or Amendment moved on the second reading of a Resolution on the Report of the Committee of Supply.He had not proposed this in the form of an Amendment or an extension of the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he thought the House should be consulted, and that it was probable that the Government might have some proposition of its own to offer. His proposal, in effect, was that the Speaker should not on Mondays alone, but on all occasions of going into Supply, leave the Chair without putting any Question. This would secure in ail cases a certain consideration of the Estimates in Committee, and any discussion in the form of Amendments which were now moved would come up on Report. The principle of bringing grievances before Supply would be maintained, and the House would have the great advantage of knowing for a certainty when the Estimates would come on. It might be said that this would only postpone the general discussions till the Report; but he thought, in practice, that would not be found the case, as many of the grievances would be disposed of in the discussion in Committee. There would, no doubt, be an occasional block on the Report; but the Government had stated that they could not hope to put down these discussions 1551 altogether. The Government were, he knew, under the idea that they would gain nothing by his proposal; but he knew, on the contrary, that they would gain a great deal. In any case, the Government must understand that there were very many questions which they could not exclude under any system of Business; and if a proper opportunity wore not allowed for their consideration, he very much feared that objectionable ones would be found.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he regretted that the noble Lord who had just sat down had not put his propositions on the Paper in a definite form. He said, when he first heard them, that they seemed to him the most logical and the most effective way of dealing with the question aimed at in the Resolution. After having heard the more definite statement which the noble Lord had just made, he certainly wished to repeat that opinion in a still more unqualified manner. At the same time, it must be with all Members of the House a matter of regret that this proposition had not been put on the Paper in a definite form, and that they had not learnt definitely what were the proposals of the noble Lord till the second day of this discussion, and only then at a time when the House was by no means so full as it had been earlier in the evening. Though this proposal of the noble Lord would effect very many changes in the procedure, it was entirely consonant with the principles which governed their proceedings; and though it seemed to be a change of great importance, it need not, if sufficiently guarded, be an infringement of the liberties and privileges of any Member. He thought it would be necessary, if this proposition were adopted, that it should be accompanied with a Proviso that the Report of Supply should always when it was on the Paper be the first Order of the Day, in order to place hon. Members in the same position as if they were bringing forward Resolutions on Committee of Supply. By this proposal they would not merely carry out the object of the Government and the propositions of the Committee, but they would facilitate Business and secure the order, comfort, and convenience of independent Members. They would, in the first place, get the result on every day of the week that the Chancellor of the Exchequer now said would follow 1552 from making his Resolution apply to a Monday. They would be sure whenever Supply was down that it would come on, hon. Members would be perfectly certain what items in the Estimates would be under consideration, and they would be able to transact their Business with an ease and a certainty and, he ventured to think, with a celerity also, which would be most advantageous to the Public Business. They would have the Estimates discussed in the full face of the House, early in the evening, when Members were cool, collected, and perfectly prepared to conduct Business in a satisfactory manner, and so they would avoid those wrangles and acrimonious discussions which resulted from the late discussion of Supply. They would, in fact, get the whole of their Business carried on more speedily and certainly more creditably. Advantage might be taken of the opportunity, if the noble Lord did put his proposition on the Paper, to attempt to define the meaning of the word "grievance" as applied to Motions having precedence of Votes of Supply. Everybody would agree, if the House was to discuss grievances, that they should be, at all events, if not strictly relevant, at any rate, partaking of the form of grievances. Now, to give an example, last Session they had three discussions before Supply which were none of them in any sense grievances. For his part, he should define a grievance either as a misuse of power, or a neglect of administrative authority on the part of persons who by law were authorized to exercise it. The questions he referred to were the Burials Question, a question of International rights, and the question of the extension of the control of the Corporation of London to the whole of the Metropolis. All these cases, however desirable it was that they should be brought forward, were none of them grievances. They were complaints of the law as it stood, not complaints of maladministration; and, in his opinion, it was very necessary that they should be relegated, with similar questions, to the particular nights on which such Motions were usually brought forward. Another difficulty about this mode of procedure was that in Motions of that sort they had to deal with an abstract Motion without the possibility of moving an Amendment. The hon. Member, in 1553 fact, who brought forward any question, put the House in the position into which no Member had a right to put it, for he forced the House to say "Aye" or "No" to a particular definite proposition, and prevented any Member from moving an Amendment. Thus Members were compelled to come to a conclusion which very imperfectly expressed the opinion of the House, and he thought it would be far better that such Motions should be discussed at a time when they might be so amended as really to express the feelings of the House. He had merely glanced at this question by the way. He did not think that it would be well to adopt the proposition of the noble Lord in the imperfect form of con-lining it to the Monday, because then extraordinary difficulties would arise. They would have a Vote passed on Monday; therefore, when it came up for Report, there would be a general debate. But a Vote taken on Thursday would not be open for discussion on Report, and thus they would have confusion worse confounded. Red ink, or asterisks, or something of that sort would have to be used to indicate the difference. When, also, they got well into the Session, they would have three or four different Reports of Supply on the Paper, and enormous difficulty in getting them through because of these very complications. Therefore, he maintained that if they wore to accept the suggestions of the noble Marquess they should extend them to the whole of the week. He did appeal to the House whether this was not a good opportunity for settling the Business of the House on the Rules as suggested by the noble Lord, and for making a real, practical, and efficient improvement in the Business?
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
observed, that the three questions to which the Chairman of Committees referred had all been brought forward on a Friday, and not on Supply nights. He was sorry to see the "No-surrender" tone of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech, though he could not wonder that he had not accepted the noble Lord's proposal. It was quite true that this Resolution came recommended by the Committee; but the right hon. Gentleman forgot to mention that the Committee were against the Resolution as it stood, and without the Amendments which would be proposed to-night. The 1554 Chancellor of the Exchequer was mistaken when he said that the Speaker had given it as his opinion that a Minister ought not to make his Statement with the Speaker in the Chair. The fact was otherwise. The Speaker, in his evidence, had distinctly stated that it was desirable that the Minister in charge of Estimates should make his Statement with the Speaker in the Chair.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he was not referring to the evidence of the Speaker, but to his ruling in the House as the matter now stood, and as proof that his right hon. Friend had made his Statement with the Speaker in the Chair.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he did not think a Resolution of this kind was the proper remedy for the evil complained of. If independent Members were pressed too much they would retaliate, not by obstruction, but by bringing forward their Motions on other and more inconvenient occasions. It would be within their competence to bring forward Motions on the Budget night; but he did not say they would resort to that course. They would not, however, surrender their nights on appeal from the Government, as before, and in this way the Government would lose more nights in a Session than they would gain by the Resolution.
said, he would not charge the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Government with any dark design against the liberties of the House or the country; but, whenever in any part of the world—from the Neva to the Tiber, or from the Golden Horn to Westminster—he heard of a Minister approaching Parliament to induce it to surrender some of its liberties, he was reminded of the picture of Richard III. tempting his nephews out of the safety of their sanctuary to confide in their tender-hearted uncle. He would trust no Government or Minister with the liberties of the people. The Prince Consort had once said that Parliamentary institutions in this country wore on their trial, and what an outcry the remark called forth! The Government were certainly putting them on their trial now. The Government had no case to-day unless it was that Parliament had no right to be trusted with the liberties it had hitherto enjoyed. For the last 30 years, unfortunately, 1555 attempts had been successfully made by Governments to trench on the liberties of Parliament and to narrow the limits of debate. He was sorry the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) should have given his influence in favour of this strange encroachment on the liberties of the House. The hon. Member had complained that there were no real grievances brought forward now; but he did not define what grievances were. He inferred from his speech, however, that he thought a complaint as to the Irish land system would be no legitimate grievance; but that a grievance would be found in a complaint that Colonel Lord Fitznoddy had been deprived of his commission without having his case investigated. If that was the view taken by the Government as to what constituted a grievance, he should at once contest it. He contended that a grievance in the sense of the Constitution meant any complaint or demand on the concession of which the grant of money to the Crown depended. If they went back to history, they would find Bills had originated in the practice of the Commons tacking on to the grants made to the Crown certain Petitions demanding remedies for their grievances. It was in that practice that the whole freedom of the House and its rights to pass laws had originated. But to-night they found it suggested that Parliament performed no function in the political economy of this country, save as a mere law-making machine. He denied such a statement. It was a low and ignoble view to take of that House, which was no Chamber for registering the decrees of a Ministry or of any number of wise men, but a place where the voice of the country should be heard discussing as well as enacting. They could have no enacting without preceding discussion. No doubt, Ministers did not like discussion. Lord Eldon, 50 years ago, would, doubtless, have told them that the discussions on Reform were a nuisance, a waste of the time of Parliament, and an irritation to the King's conscience. Were they to be told tonight that the liberties enjoyed by Parliament 40 years ago must be clipped now for the convenience of a Ministry who wanted Votes more rapidly for their accumulating wars? Of course, in any Parliament there would be a great deal of talk; there was always chaff with the 1556 grain; but the spirit of the Constitution was that the voice of the country should be heard in order that our rulers might know what evils were irritating the mind of the nation, wisely or unwisely, for the time being. Suppress that, and they would share the fate of the despots of the Continent, to whom these ebullitions of popular feeling were exceedingly disagreeable. It was useful to the safety of the country that every feeling should have an outlet in Parliament. If they wanted to economize public time at the sacrifice of their most cherished institutions; there was a shorter and better mode of doing it. Let them elect some 21 of its wise men to do all the Business. They would have little talk then, and they would provide a greater number of Bills in accordance with the taste of the Government than they got now. It was really in that direction that they wore being asked to travel to-night, and he should resist it by all the means in his power. In his short experience of the House he had seen the Prerogatives of Parliament substantially encroached upon; and he regretted that the Prime Minister, who rose into prominence by moving Motions on going into Committee of Supply, should lend his name to such a proposition as was now before the House, in order that, at the close of his first Parliament, he might retire on his laurels able to say—"I am that Minister who, during five or six Sessions, by measures not known for 100 years, introduced personal government, extended the Prerogatives of the Crown, and curtailed die liberties of Parliament."
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
was not surprised that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have repudiated the proposition of the noble Lord; for, however much it might be for the convenience of the House, it would not facilitate the passing of the Government measures. Unless, however, the right hon. Gentleman would offer some further compromise than he had done, he would have very great difficulty in carrying his first Resolution.
§ DR. KENEALY
Mr. Speaker, when I came down to the House I did not intend to take any part in this debate; I was anxious to hear both sides, and to form my opinion. What I have heard to-night has satisfied me that I ought to support the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his first Resolution. I shall state in 1557 a few words the way in which the question presents itself to my mind. This House votes countless millions every year in Committee of Supply. The National Expenditure is rapidly increasing; the general ability to endure that Expenditure is growing less and less every day. It behaves us all, therefore, if we desire to do our duty to our constituents, to watch the growth of that Expenditure with the most wary eyes, and to do all we can that may make it loss. How is this to be effected? By having better means than we now possess of checking these extensive money Votes. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), and other hon. Gentlemen of the same school of politics, have ridiculed the idea of any good being effected by attacking money Votes in Committee of Supply. I dissent from him and them, because I know that the late Mr. Joseph Hume, by his persistent criticisms of Supply, saved the country millions every year. Under our present system, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer strives to improve, what happens? Supply is set down for a certain evening; 20 or 30 hon. Members at once give Notice of Motions on almost every possible subject, and these Motions have all to be discussed and decided upon before we get into Committee of Supply. Thus the whole night is often wasted, and we are called upon to debate the question of expending millions of the public money at 1, or 2, and often 3 o'clock in the morning, when hon. Members are broken down and utterly exhausted by the previous Sitting. The result is that there is no criticism, there is no real discussion, and Ministers get these millions often in a House consisting of a dozen Members, almost for the asking. I have seen Votes of the worst kind for many millions of money passed sub silentio, and almost as a matter of course, when day was dawning, in this way, because hon. Members were both physically and mentally incapable, by reason of their previous labours, to carry on the war any longer. I have come down here myself, over and over again, early in the evening, prepared to challenge items in Supply. I have waited during long and dreary hours, hoping that the previous Motions would come to an end; and at last, finding that they were likely to go on and on, I have been compelled, long past mid- 1558 night, from sheer faintness and exhaustion, to leave the House without having had a chance of moving for retrenchment, or expressing my dissent from extravagant claims made. Now, I know that there are many hon. Members, anxious reformers, like myself, of Public Expenditure, retrenchers of the extravagance that exists, who have been forced out of the House "in the small hours of the morning" by the same reasons that have so frequently operated in my own case. Hence it is that we have no means of resisting the wanton waste, or restraining the torrents of money which we see poured around us. And I regard it as a good measure, on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he offers to put an end to this abuse on one evening at least—Monday—in the course of the week. By this means, as we go into Supply at once, we shall—all of us who are economical reformers—be able to attack these items in the Estimates which we deem to be objectionable. I am constrained, therefore, by a sense of duty to support this Resolution, which I believe will prove itself to be one highly beneficial to the public, and which may save the country many millions every year. I lament the course taken by hon. Members on these Benches, and I think the general public will eventually disapprove of that course, and will derive great benefit from the change proposed. With reference to the wild and almost lunatic fears expressed that we are abandoning "wonderful rights and privileges," I am in no way alarmed at such high-flown nonsense. It may suit some ignorant platforms, and may probably delude the unthinking; but it is wholly unworthy of this House. I have not seen yet on the part of Ministers any real proof that they have entered into a conspiracy to destroy the just rights and privileges of Members. When they do so I, for one, shall be ready to resist them to the utmost. Nay, I may add that the whole House would rise in rebellion against them. For this reason I treat with scorn and disbelief those empty, sounding, and trumpery phrases by which only the most dull, foolish, or thoughtless could be misled. This House is well able, and I think is always willing, to guard its "rights and privileges" against all attacks; against all interference and encroachment. And by pass- 1559 ing this Resolution, it will really regain one of its most priceless of all rights—that of criticizing and reducing the Public Expenditure. This right has practically been lost since the days of Joseph Hume. Hence the increase of Expenditure by £30,000,000 a-year; hence the fearful addition to taxation. In Mr. Hume's day the whole public annual Expenditure was loss than £50,000,000; it is now £80,000,000. Why should I, then, resist a Resolution which will enable many of us to do now what Mr. Hume then did? Under 40 years of a "Liberal" Government, we have lost this most precious "right and privilege." I support the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who endeavours to restore it.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, that as the suggestion made on the subject before the House by the noble Lord the Member for the Radnor Boroughs (the Marquess of Hartington) could not be ignored, he thought the better course to be pursued would be to adjourn the debate upon the Resolution, in order that it might be considered how the noble Lord's proposal could be shaped so as to meet the views of the hon. Members generally. Meanwhile, there was plenty of other Business to which they could apply themselves. He regarded these Resolutions as mere nibbling at a great question, and as not in the least likely to effect the object in view—the improvement of the machinery by which the Business of the House was conducted. These Resolutions would not enable the House, to get rid of the Irish Question, which stood in the way of English and Scotch Business. He had been studying the working of one of the United States Provincial Legislatures lately. In 40 or 50 days it got through more work than the House of Commons did in a whole Session, and the reason was that most of the work was done in Committee, and the House merely confirmed the Committee's operations. He was disposed to support the division of the House into Grand Committees for the purpose of carrying on contemporaneously the Business of the several Departments of the State. He confessed that it would be impossible to carry out this proposal without a considerable change in the character of the House; but the proposal was one that would deal comprehensively with the 1560 difficulty before them. It would be better to postpone the consideration of the Resolution then before the House, in order that they might have the proposal of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition also before them and consider them together.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he had always thought the proceedings of the Committee on Public Business last Session very imperfect, because they wore only directed to one portion of the subject. Of late years they had got into the habit of thinking that the Government of the day was the House, and that, in fact, Government Business was the only portion of the Business of Parliament that was worthy of any consideration whatever. It appeared to him that that view was allowed to prevail very largely in the Select Committee on Public Business. History would show how dangerous it was to strengthen the hands of the Government as against the House. In years gone by, when that House was struggling for its liberties, Ministers were only admitted there on sufferance. Instead of the Government claiming two days a-week, as they did now, all the days should belong to private Members, who—and not the Government—really constituted the House. However, he supposed it had been found convenient to give the Government a day or two each week, not so much as the Representatives of the Crown in that House, but as the Representatives of the opinion of the majority of the people of this country, in order that they might bring forward those measures which the majority were in favour of. Parliament, however, in giving Mondays and Thursdays to the Government made the exception that when Supply stood for those days, any hon. Member might move Amendments, with the view of bringing up discussion on any grievance. Now, the Government wanted to go a step further, and convert Parliament into a mere machine for voting money for the purposes of the Government—whether good or bad. The whole of last Session was practically devoted to that purpose. The profession of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he wanted to give more time for the discussion of the Estimates was all very well; but they all knew that no Minister really wanted his Estimates to be discussed at all. He did not believe the passing of these Resolutions 1561 would lead to any saving of time; and the House did not think so, for in regard to argument and moral support the Government really found themselves deserted. There were many considerations involved in a question like the present. There was the consideration as to whether, after they had done everything, they would really be a gainer thereby. The suggestion that grievances should be taken on the Report of Supply was condemned by the evidence of Sir Erskine May; and if as much latitude were allowed on Report as on the Motion to go into Committee, the loss of time would be equal to the saving. The evidence of Sir Erskine May and of the Speaker was opposed to the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; they doubted whether it would meet with the support of the House, and their doubts were confirmed by the debate. The Speaker supported the revival of the Resolution of 1872 and 1873, which provided for the discussion, on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, of Amendments relating to any of the Votes proposed to be taken in Committee. He freely admitted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when moving for the appointment of the Committee on Public Business, said he did not do so for the purpose of dealing with the question of obstruction, but of facilitating the general Business of the House; but the Committee had not proceeded very far in its labours before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, without Notice, introduced the question of obstruction by the horns, and thus the Committee was entirely turned aside from its original object to the very barren question of obstruction. No doubt, great questions could be brought forward on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply; but he would appeal to the recollection of hon. Members of the House whether that had been done—whether it had not been the practice for hon. Members who had charge of a question to ballot for a night? Unless under very special circumstances, no such subject as the Irish Land Question or the Irish University Education Question could be brought forward on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply on Monday or Thursday. Private Members had not an opportunity of knowing the intention of the Government as to Supply, and they could not tell suffi- 1562 ciently in advance whether there would be an opportunity of stopping Supply by bringing forward such questions. Originally the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed that Friday should be made a Motion night for private Members as an equivalent or compensation for the loss of Monday; but after a time the right hon. Gentleman dropped that idea, and it was not brought forward again. He (Mr. Parnell) thought they ought to have Friday made a Motion night, in order that grievances might be brought forward. With regard to the question of Count-outs, the difficulty of keeping a House on Fridays was well known. It was comparatively easy for a powerful Party-like the Home Rule Party to keep a House; but what of private Members? He would appeal to the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newde-gate), whether there was not considerable difficulty in keeping a House even on such an important question as that of the Monastic and Conventual Institutions? If, however, they turned Friday into a Motion night, every hon. Member who had a Motion down on the Paper would be desirous of keeping a House on that night, because his Motion would be discussed. He made a proposition in the Committee on Public Business that questions relating to England, Ireland, and Scotland should be referred to Select Committees, consisting respectively of Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotchmen; and he thought that might also be carried out with regard to Estimates. English Estimates might be referred to a Committee consisting of Englishmen, Scotch Estimates to a Committee consisting of Scotchmen, and Irish Estimates to a Committee consisting of Irishmen, with power to the House to direct that they should then be referred to a Committee of the Whole House if necessary. If a Rule similar to that were adopted with regard to Bills, Public Business would be greatly expedited. He did not believe the propositions of the Government, directed as they were against the rest of the Constitution, would in the slightest degree effect the objects for which they wore brought forward. They were brought in ostensibly to promote Public Business, and to enable the Government to get Supply with as little discussion as possible. The origin of all this was said to have arisen 1563 out of the proceedings of certain Irish Members; but was it not a foolish thing for Englishmen to set to work to injure their own Constitution in the attempt to devise a remedy for that evil? Surely they could discover some better means of dealing with that matter than by adopting measures which would have the effect of impairing their legislative proceedings. He ventured to think that the common sense of the House would see that the proceedings of the Government were of an unconstitutional nature, and ought not to be sanctioned by it.
§ MR. MUNTZ
regretted that the Government had not thought fit to entertain the proposition of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington), nor even the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) to adopt the old Rule of 1872, of which the House had had practical experience and which had worked so well. They might by an immense majority carry this Resolution; but they had other people besides the Members of that House to deal with—they had to deal with the opinion of the country. Did they think that they would put down Irish obstruction by these Resolutions? Nothing could be more absurd, because, whatever the form of those Resolutions, hon. Members would be able to drive a coach-and-six through them. They must trust to the feeling of forbearance among the hon. Gentlemen who formed that House. He was always anxious to facilitate the Business of the House, and always made it a point of supporting every means likely for promoting that end, and if lie thought that the Resolutions would facilitate Business, he would be the last to object to them; but lie maintained that their influence, if adopted, would be quite the reverse, and in addition they would be an interference with the Constitutional liberties of the country. The Resolutions would debar hon. Members from opening a discussion in a way which hon. Gentlemen would not tolerate, and instead of avoiding obstruction would really increase it. It was for these reasons that he objected to each and all of the Resolutions.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
observed that the contention of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) was that this was a Resolution which had taken the House almost by surprise, 1564 and was intended to destroy the liberties of individual Members, and was aimed at obstruction. The hon. Member must have forgotten that the first introduction of the present system of bringing forward grievances on going into Committee of Supply dated no further back than 1811, and that from that time until 1821 only three Motions were made on Supply. From 1821, with rare exceptions, the practice was not pursued for many years. The notion that the custom dated back from time immemorial was therefore a delusion. The hon. Member also appeared to have forgotten that a Resolution similar to that now proposed, intended to facilitate the progress of the Business of the country, was adopted in 1872, and, being found to work well, was continued with some little difference in 1873. There were no complaints during those two Sessions from the Liberal Benches; no denunciations that private Members were being deprived of their rights; no charge against the Government of attempting to take the entire control of Business, and almost violating the Constitution. That fact at once disposed of the terrible statements of the hon. Member, who seemed to have forgotten the whole of the events in his distinguished career in the hope of putting another nail into what he believed was the coffin of this Resolution. He wished that the House would believe Her Majesty's Government, when they stated that they had proposed this Resolution honestly and in good faith, with the view to facilitate the transaction of the Business of the country, and especially Supply. Grievances and legislation were doubtless important enough in themselves; but the transaction of the necessary Business of the country was of at least equal importance, and indeed there were many statesmen of high authority who were of opinion that it was the most important of all. The object of the Government was to endeavour, on the lines that were successful before, to bring about some certainty in the conduct of Business, to insure the necessary consideration of the Votes, to prevent them coming on at the end of the Session, when they could not be properly considered, and to prevent what was certainly not a proper way of conducting financial business—the necessity of taking Votes on Account. When he 1565 was asked to withdraw the Resolution I in order to consider the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition, he could not help asking if there was any prospect of agreement upon that Amendment? With regard to the fear which had been expressed that this Resolution would provoke criticism of a more minute character than had before been bestowed on the details of the Estimates, and that more time would be wasted, he replied that the same opportunity had existed up to the present moment, and no additional facility would be given after the passing of this Resolution. It could not fairly be said that the Resolution was one which pointed at an obstructive policy; it simply aimed at the proper conduct of Business, and as such he asked the House to consider it.
§ MR. MUNTZ,
in explanation, said, lie had been misunderstood by the hon. Baronet who had just addressed the House. What he said was that he regretted the fact that Her Majesty's Government had not adopted the same Rule.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
said, that he was strongly opposed to the Resolutions as an interference with the liberty of the people and the privileges of the House of Commons. They were meant to gag independent Members, who ought to resist to the utmost the curtailment of their rights. The rights of the people wore far superior to the necessity for voting Supplies; and if those privileges and rights could not be enjoyed and vindicated, together with the necessary Supplies being voted in a Session of six months, why, then let them sit for eight or even ten months in each year.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, the great evil of the day was the disproportionate power of the House of Commons, and he would have cordially endorsed the Resolutions if he believed they would diminish that power; but he did not consider that they would. He thought that the most striking feature of the debate was that those who had taken part in it had not arrived at an understanding of what was the real question. The right hon. Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) said it was the personal privilege of private Members; but it was nothing of the sort. He admitted that that was an important matter; but the rights and privileges of constituencies were far more important. 1566 The real question was, whether the people of this country should be deprived of the only legitimate way in which they could bring their grievances before the House. He had been surprised to hear the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate)—who was a high authority on these subjects—say that the arrangement for enabling private Members to state grievances on Friday evenings by setting up Committee of Supply as an Order of the Day ought to satisfy those Members; for, as a matter of fact, the House was counted out on nine out of ton Friday nights.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE,
in explanation, said, he had only referred to the practice of setting up Supply on Friday evenings as one of recent origin; and that at the time of its institution it was intended and believed that the Government would keep a House on those evenings.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, that the explanation of his hon. Friend fully corroborated his remarks; and in providing this panacea the Government of that day bound itself, as a point of honour, to keep a House on Friday night. That was done for some years; but Government succeeded Government, and did not feel themselves bound by the professions of their predecessors. His hon. Friend had warned the House that if they did not pass Rules regulating their proceedings they would increase the power of the House of Lords. Well, it had been said that one reason of the delay of Public Business in the House of Commons was the increased power of that House; and he, for one, would not object to an increase of the power of the House of Lords, as he believed they ought to maintain a balance of power as between the Estates of the Realm. He could not but think, however, that if they passed this Resolution, they would be sacrificing the rights of their constituents to have their grievances brought, at the earliest possible period, before this House. He therefore asked whether, for the mere purpose of putting down obstruction which could not be put down, the House was prepared to vitiate a great Constitutional principle and say that the people of England should no longer have the opportunity of placing their grievances before the House of Commons?
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, that the principle of putting grievances before Supply did not date from 1821, but from 1642. He should have expected the right hon. Gentleman, when he proposed to interfere with the privileges of Members, to show in what respect those privileges had been abused. What the Government were going to do was to provide for themselves an easy day for doing Business which they had never taken on that day before. The time of the House would be much better occupied in carefully examining the Estimates than in discussions as to what some policeman should have done at Clapham, as to what the master of a workhouse had done in Tralee, or as to some question connected with the arrival of an emigrant ship at Queenstown—a question which, generally speaking, was soon explained away. A great Constitutional question was involved in the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he felt himself compelled to vote against them. He did join in the view that the Irish Members ought to be exasperated; it took a great deal to exasperate some of them, and others did not entertain a desire to be exasperated; but they intended to do the duty which they had been sent to the House by their constituents to perform, and they would somehow or other discharge that duty, even if the Government succeeded in carrying its Resolutions. In his opinion, it would be useless to pass the Rule under consideration, as the resources of Parliamentary science would enable hon. Members who were so inclined to occupy as much of the public time in the future as they had done, or could have done, in the past. These Resolutions could only advance the Business of the House if they were passed with general consent.
§ MAJOR O'BEIRNE
remarked that the contention that the Resolutions suggested by the Government would facilitate the Business of the House was a mere pretence. The Resolutions were aimed altogether at the Irish Members, and, therefore, he opposed them. They were in no way called for. The Irish Members had frequently rendered considerable service to the House by their criticisms of the Estimates. The Mutiny Bill of last Session and the Prisons Bill wore illustrations of this fact.
§ MR. O'CLERY
said, this was not the first time that a Chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed a series of Resolutions to curtail the privileges of the Irish Members. The same course had been taken in the last Parliament by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe); but the right hon. Gentleman had been obliged to abandon his Resolutions on the third night of the debate, in face of the opposition of the whole House. That ought in itself to be a warning to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer to desist from the course which he was now pursuing of attempting to force upon the House the will of the Cabinet for the time being. Nothing would be gained by the passing of these Resolutions. On the contrary, their adoption would deprive those outside from having any fair representation made of their grievances within the Chamber, and this appeared to him to be a vital point. He objected to the country being subjected to a sort of despotism on the part of the front Ministerial Bench. He objected to this attempt on the part of the Government to dragoon the Irish Members. The Leader of the House might possibly have tried to take a leaf out of the book of Prince Bismarck, and it might even be in contemplation in certain eventualities to imprison particular Members of the House; but he ventured to think that hon. Gentlemen, no matter how they might individually disagree on some points, would combine in endeavouring to resist a Ministry, no matter how powerful, that put forward Resolutions of this description—Resolutions which were obviously introduced with the object of crushing out the rising spirit of indignation which must undoubtedly prevail at the way in which the Government had treated Ireland. Hopes had been raised that certain Irish measures would be brought forward at the beginning of the Session; but at the last moment, in obedience to a feeling of bigotry and prejudice on the part of some Members of the Cabinet, that good intention had been abandoned, and now it was proposed to stifle the voice of the Representatives of the Irish people. He hoped and believed that many Members of the Conservative, as well as of the Liberal Party, would, in a spirit of fair play, oppose these Resolutions.
§ MR. J. R. YORKE
approved a proposal that had been made to print along with the Estimates some kind of abstract which might enable hon. Members to wade with some degree of intelligence through the masses of figures that to the unprofessional mind presented so unpromising an appearance. The want of some such guide as this usually caused the evening on which the Estimates were introduced to be almost entirely wasted. A Minister, in making a Statement, went into calculations which no one not an expert could follow. He received the congratulations of his Colleagues, while others truly said that it was impossible for them at that time to follow him in matters of detail; and practically discussion was postponed until Members had read the report of the speech in The Times. If, instead of the speech being made in the House, the substance of it were embodied in an introduction to the Estimates, they could read it and come duly prepared for an intelligent discussion of the Business of the House. That was one of the few practical suggestions that had been made in the course of the discussion. If any part of the object aimed at were the putting down of Irish Members, the Government had set about it in a tame and unintelligible manner. The first effect of the Resolution would be to prevent the legitimate discussion of grievances and to stop many quiet men who were unwilling to strain the forms of the House from bringing forward questions of importance. It would not operate for a moment to restrain Irish Members; if they chose to exhibit pertinacity and determination, they would not find the slightest difficulty in airing their grievances. In a debate which occurred in 1872, Mr. Henley said he did not think any sufficient ground could be alleged for curtailing the privileges of the House, and he could see nothing in the proposal but an intention on the part of the Liberal Government to muzzle the House of Commons. An alteration of one word would probably adapt that sentence to the present circumstances. Mr. Henley added that the proposal would not save time or facilitate the getting of money. It was against the law of nature, for it was as true in public as it was in private matters, that if you wanted to get money you must hear what people had to say. 1570 The operation of the proposed Rule would make it worse to get money, for grievances would be ventilated, without Notice, on the Motion to report Progress, seeing that it was not proposed that Supply should go on continuously as many hours as the Government pleased. He agreed with these sentiments, and did not think any new Rides were wanted to meet obstruction. That could be dealt with by a courageous application of existing Rules. If a Member was guilty of obstruction, the Speaker could call the attention of the House to the fact that he was guilty of contempt, and on a Motion by the Leader of the House or any Member of sufficient authority, the offender having been heard in his defence, the House could inflict an adequate penalty. If that course had been taken, they might long ago have dealt with obstruction more efficiently than by new Rules, which would abridge the legitimate opportunities of bringing forward grievances and prevent hon. Members doing what it was their duty to do. The Rules would be inoperative to prevent obstruction, and mischievous so far as they affected the legitimate Business of the House.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, it had been alleged that this Resolution would facilitate the getting into Committee of Supply. If that were so, he might be disposed to accept it, as he thought the discussions in Committee on the Votes, so far from being a waste of time, were most valuable; because, though they seldom got a reduction of the Estimates, the knowledge that these Estimates were liable to be discussed in detail had a beneficial effect on their preparation. He did not, however, believe that these Resolutions would enable them to discuss the Estimates better. The question of grievances before Supply was one in which their constituencies were greatly interested, and the Members of the present Parliament were bound to hand down unimpaired to their successors in the next Parliament those rights which they had received in trust for the people. He liked very much the proposal suggested by the noble Lord the Member for the Radnor Boroughs to substitute Report on Supply to going into Committee for the hearing of grievances, and to make the Report the First Order of the Day. He urged the Government, even at that late 1571 hour, to consent to some modification of the rigid line they had taken up.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he could not agree with the view taken on this subject by the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck), and he believed the constituencies would take a very different view of the question before the House. The question really was how the Business of the country was to be carried on; whether the House was to be looked upon as a Legislative Assembly, or to degenerate into a mere debating society? Private Members had three nights in the week when they might discuss matters in which they and their constituencies were interested, and this might be taken as a sufficient recognition of the Constitutional principle of grievances before Supply. They were also in the habit of addressing 20 or 30 Questions, many of an argumentative character, to Ministers every night; and surely it was not too much to allow the Government to go into Supply on Monday without obstruction.
§ MR. JACOB BRIGHT
expressed his belief that any attempt made professedly to save time of the House did not promote Public Business; but, on the contrary, was made use of to waste the time of the House. There were various kinds of obstruction. The obstruction on that side of the House was only an exceptional circumstance; but obstruction in a certain sense to many propositions that were essential to the good of the country was on the other side of the House the normal condition of affairs. He believed the Government would find it impossible to pass this Resolution, opposed as it was by so many influential Members on both sides of the House. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself had admitted that it would be useless to attempt to pass such a Resolution unless he carried the House with him. He therefore hoped the Government would consent to modify it as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition had suggested.
§ MR. BIGGAR
remarked that if the Resolutions were adopted, the effect would be in a short time to prevent hon. Members from bringing forward their grievances. They would be at the mercy of Ministers, of Morning Sittings, and of Counts-out. He would remind Conservative Members that the day 1572 might come when they would wish to bring forward their grievances, and the law, which it was now proposed to enact against the Irish Representatives, might then be directed against themselves. There was the grievance of the Irish Land Laws, and there was the grievance of Irish University Education. Those were not second-class evils, but grievances of the first magnitude; and how were they to be brought before the House, if the Irish Members were to be precluded from introducing such questions in the only way in which they had really the power of raising them?
§ Amendment (Mr. Beresford Hope), by leave, withdrawn.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
moved to restrict the operation of the Rule to June, July, and August. He was sorry to say that the question, although one of gravity, was not one from which they would expect to receive any great support from the country. Very many persons, who thought a great deal of their own grievances, cared very little about the forms of the House, although what they were discussing to-night was simply the means of taking away from unfortunate electors in different parts of the Kingdom the means of getting their grievances brought forward and redressed. If they were to follow the fashion of some foreign Assemblies, where it was necessary to get the sanction of a large number of Members before any subject was discussed, it would be looked on as something startling; but that was precisely the effect of the present proposals of the Government. If the Resolutions were passed, there would only remain Tuesdays and Fridays for the ventilation of grievances, and hon. Members knew that it was necessary to get together 40 Members to keep the House, which was not always an easy matter. Of course, those who sat on the front Opposition Benches would be able to obtain sufficient aid to make and keep a House; but then they were not very fond of taking up ordinary questions, while the importance of most questions was only gradually made to dawn on the public mind. Some organized system of keeping a House ought in these circumstances, he thought, to be resorted to by the general body of Members; for if the new Rule were adopted, unless 40 Members were interested in bringing 1573 forward a subject, it would fail to obtain a hearing. His proposal would give the Government all the Mondays in the three last months of the Session for advancing Supply, and that he considered a very fair compromise.
After the word "Monday," to insert the words "in the months of June, July, and August."—(Major Nolan.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he was sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree to the compromise of his hon. and gallant Friend, which would give him plenty of time to get through the arrears and grant the concession of the other months to the private Members.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, that although he was anxious to see the Resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer modified, he could not support the Amendment, which he believed would create a congestion of Business and throw Supply into the last three months of the Session, when a sufficient examination of the Estimates would be impossible.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the object of his proposal was to get Supply at an early period of the Session, and prevent Votes on Account. The throwing of Supply into the latter part of the Session was exactly what the Government wished to avoid. He must therefore oppose the Amendment.
§ MR. ANDERSON
asked if the Government would not give them some indication of what they intended to do when they came to the subsequent Amendments?
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
also desired the Government to say whether they would accept any of the Amendments?
§ Question put.
§ THE House divided:—Ayes 68; Noes 161: Majority 93.—(Div. List, No. 17.)
§ MR. ANDERSON
then moved, as an Amendment in the Resolution, the insertion, after the word "Monday," of the words—Provided there be not on the Paper any Amendment relevant to the class of Estimates about to be discussed.
After the word "Monday," to insert the words "provided there be not on the Paper any Amendment relevant to the class of Estimates about to be discussed."—(Mr. Anderson.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
wished to remind the House of that which he had stated more than once—namely, that in proposing those Resolutions he had come forward, not on behalf of the Government peculiarly, but on behalf of the real interests of Business and the general convenience of the House, and that he had proposed them, in his capacity of Chairman of the Committee of last Session, in the form in which they were passed by that Committee. He had felt throughout that the great object which should be gained was that they should come, he would not say to an unanimous, but to something like a general agreement as to the Rules by which the House should be guided. It was impossible for any Assembly to go on without Rules of some sort, and it was extremely difficult to carry on Business with Rules against which any very large section of Members had objection. What was desirable was that they should establish a modus vivendi—a manner of transacting their Business which should be satisfactory to the great body of hon. Members. He did not think it signified half so much what the actual Rule they had to guide themselves by was, as in what spirit it was observed. He believed it was once said by Mr. Fox that nothing could be more absurd in theory, or more excellent in practice, than the British Constitution. That was very often the case with regard to many of the Rules of that House and of other assemblies of Englishmen. The Rules appeared in theory to be open to a great many comments and criticisms; but when worked in a fair and reasonable spirit, they were found to be very well suited to the purpose they had in view. He had felt it his duty to propose these Resolutions, as he had said, in the form in which they had passed the Committee of last Session, and he had endeavoured—as others had endeavoured—to impress on the House that they were proposed in that spirit, and with a wish to meet the objections which had been made to them. 1575 He had sought to persuade the House that the form in which they had been suggested to it was, on the whole, the best which it could adopt. He candidly admitted that in the course of the discussion more objection had been raised to the particular proposal he had made than he had been prepared to find. He could not deny that if the Resolution were to be carried by a majority against an unwilling and large minority, it was exceedingly probable that in practice it would fail. His object was distinctly a practical one, and he desired to arrive at some arrangement which would be more acceptable to the great body of the House. With regard to the suggestion of the noble Lord, to which a good deal of favour had been accorded, he, without expressing a positive opinion against the possibility of working it into shape, wished to observe that it was a novel proposal, and one to which, on further reflection, fresh objections might be raised. Therefore, he was not prepared to recommend the House to adopt so great a change in its procedure. Five or six hon. Gentlemen had given Notice of Amendments more or less in the sense of the proposal now submitted by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson). All these Amendments might be taken together as pointing towards and centring around the Rule known as the Rule of 1872, which was in force for three years. It was discontinued at the beginning of the present Parliament, under the auspices of his noble Friend the present Prime Minister, whose desire was to endeavour to conduct the Business of the House without any limitations at all. However, the Rule worked fairly well during the time it was in force. It was proposed again in the Committee of last year, but was rejected in favour of the proposal now in his name on the Paper by a majority of 1. Yet it was rejected under circumstances which deprived the small majority even of the character which at first sight attached to it. In his opinion, the wisest course would be to endeavour to come to an arrangement upon this question, and he was prepared to accept the Amendment of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), which was as follows:—To add, as an Amendment to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's first Resolution, the words— 1576Unless such question should be an Amendment relating to the Class of Estimates proposed to be taken on Supply, on first going into Committee on the Army, Navy, and Civil Services respectively.He hoped the House would see that he was making this proposal with a sincere desire to meet the wishes of the House, and that he had throughout not endeavoured to support any views of his own nor to make any Motion in the special interests of the Government; but that he only desired to consult what he believed to be the interest of the House. In conclusion, he trusted there would be a disposition to have the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex substituted for that which had just been proposed by the hon. Member for Glasgow.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, that in all his Parliamentrry experience he had never known such a waste of time as had been committed on this occasion. If the question were to be debated in all its details, there would be a much greater loss of time than had ever been caused by Motions on going into Committee of Supply. Her Majesty's Government had got into a mess, and did not know how to get out of it. They had much better give up the whole thing with a good grace, and be content to go on with the old Rules, which had worked extremely well. By this debate the House was wasting a great deal of public time, and was presenting a spectacle by no means favourable to the dignity of Parliament. Therefore, he moved that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir George Bowyer.)
§ MR. W. M. TORRENS
remarked that the Business of the country had outgrown the old Rule, and that it was desirable to adapt the machinery of the House to new necessities. It was mere nonsense to speak of the Whole House going into Committee of Supply. The Whole House never went into Committee of Supply. The Committee was attended only by a few hon. Members who understood the particular Estimates under consideration, and the other Members stayed away. In proposing the new Rules, the Government could have had no other object than to facilitate the 1577 conduct of the Business of the House, and it was clear that they were willing to accept suggestions. But it seemed to him, and he did not say it without consideration, that sooner or later they would have to go further. They would sooner or later have to come back to the good old way which prevailed a century and a-half ago, when the House divided itself into a number of Grand Committees and gave over to them the questions with which they were best qualified to deal. He would give his assent to the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex.
§ MR. DODSON
said, they one and all were agreed in upholding the honour of Parliament and the respect in which it was held by the country. But what view was likely to be taken by the country, if they were not able to arrive at a rational conclusion after all this debate? Having long been an officer of the House, he had great respect for its forms and Rules, of which he might be regarded as very conservative. But, nevertheless, he could not but see that from time to time some modification of those Rules and forms might become necessary. He believed it was the opinion of a large portion of the people out-of-doors that the forms of the House of Commons were incredibly clumsy and cumbrous. He did not share that opinion, but it was time that the public should be disabused of the idea that they were so conservative of the forms and Rules of the House, that they would be unwilling to make any alteration where it was conceded that a change was wanted. There were three difficulties with which the House had to contend. In the first place, the great multiplicity of Business; secondly, the prolixity of debate; and, thirdly, uncertainty as to the hour or even the day when any particular piece of Business was to come on. As to the first point, the House was most unwilling to part with any of the Business now intrusted to its charge. ["No!"] An hon. Member said "No;" but he had had the honour of submitting a plan for lightening its labours, and though he received considerable support, he had reason to know that the House was very jealous of any interference on that head. As to prolixity of debate, he hoped they would never be reduced to the necessity of a gag law, or the clôture. Then there remained the uncertainty 1578 as to the time of Business, and the evils of that uncertainty culminated in the case of Supply; for this reason, as had been said from the Chair, that going into Supply was an exception to all the Rules of the House as regarded the introduction of irrelevant subjects. The use of that liberty on going into Committee of Supply was one that had grown up in comparatively recent periods. Formerly it was, like the right of moving the adjournment of the House, seldom resorted to. Twenty-five or 30 years ago there were not in a Session more than three or four Motions on going into Committee of Supply. When he first entered the House there were, perhaps, 10 or 11 Motions on going into Supply. That had increased till there were at least 30 or 40 Motions on going into Supply, besides questions on which discussion was allowed. And while that change had been going on in one direction, another change had been going on in an opposite direction—namely, an increase in the number of Votes submitted to the House, greater minuteness in the form in which Votes were presented to the House, and the removal from the Consolidated Fund of a number of charges which were formerly not submitted to the House, but which now were. The Rule which had been proposed to the House was one which had not only been recommended by two Committees of the House appointed to consider this subject, but which had been substantially adopted in the last Parliament and in the present Parliament. For himself, he preferred to accept the Rule in the manner in which it was recommended by the Committee of last year, and proposed to the House in the first instance by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—namely, that when Supply was set down on Monday they should take Supply. This would secure certainty in regard to one of the most important Businesses the House had to transact. He was not one of those who thought that by the adoption of that Rule there would be any vital sacrifice of Constitutional privileges, nor did he believe that the individual Members of the House would find themselves to a very material extent deprived of any reasonable facility of bringing forward subjects which they now enjoyed. But, although that was his view, being anxious for the progress of Business and 1579 for the credit of the House, he was prepared, for the sake of agreement, to waive his own preference, and accept the Rule as amended on the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he was sorry that the discovery, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer confessed, was not made a little earlier in the week, as it would probably have saved a good deal of discussion. Appreciating, however, the frank and friendly way in which the matter had been put, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman, for himself and those with whom he was now acting, that they, too, were desirous of pursuing the debate in a frank and friendly spirit. Looking at the proposed Resolutions, he observed that they divided themselves into two classes. Those of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), and the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex(Sir Walter B. Barttelot), only went as far as the Rule of 1872, whilst the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), and the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon), as well as he himself, were in favour of the more general and further-extending Rule of 1876—a Rule which owed its birth to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was to be regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not made the concession more complete. With regard to the Amendment of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), it would go far towards removing objections, if he would consent to its amendment by the omission of the one word "first:" so modified, this Amendment would travel the whole distance along which he now proposed to take the House, and might result in general contentment. There was one thing at least on which he might congratulate the House—namely, that it had not allowed itself to be carried away by the proposition, seductive as it was, of the noble Lord the Member for the Radnor Boroughs (the Marquess of Har-tington). It was surprising that a Member of his distinguished position, ability, and knowledge of the Business of the House, should have made such a proposal at all. For his own part, if he were an obstructive, he should be very glad of the opportunity which that sug- 1580 gestion supplied for dogging the steps of Supply. Suppose the scheme of the noble Lord to be adopted, how would the case stand on the Monday? Next Monday, let it be supposed, a certain amount of Supply might be run through; on Thursday the Report would be put down, for the Report must always follow the Supply like a shadow. On that Thursday, then, various irrelevant Amendments—irrelevant intentionally, and protected in their irrelevancy by the deliberate decision of the House—would be put down; and perhaps the House might get through these Amendments, if it was lucky, by 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning on the same Thursday. Then must come the substantive Report of the several Votes, and if the House continued in luck, and had got through the Amendments, it might dispose of those items in another week—taking Monday and Thursday. So the process of getting through a night's Supply would, by the noble Lord's plan, when times were critical, take a whole fortnight. As an enemy of obstruction, he was glad that the proposal had not been reduced to black and white and put upon the Notice Paper. He would accordingly suggest to his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex, whether he would not agree to strike out the word "first" from his Amendment?
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
thought that the Motion of the hon. and learned Baronet (Sir George Bowyer), if there was any soundness in it, should have been proposed five hours earlier, and all that time would have been saved to the House. As the hon. and gallant Baronet's Motion was substantially the same as his own, he was quite ready to yield to the preference accorded to the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex. A great deal had been said during the evening about the privileges of the House, and the control which it should exercise over the Estimates. His experience of two Parliaments had been that, under the plea or shelter of bringing forward grievances, that function of the House of Commons had been postponed on many occasions, to the great detriment of the public interest. Supply had been put down night after night, while the Notice Paper had been literally clogged with Motions which, under the colour of grievances, had really no other purpose than the 1581 proposal and discussion of abstract Resolutions which led to no practical results. As a consequence of this, the Estimates had been postponed to so late an hour that when at last they came on, hon. Members found themselves worn out with waiting, and the items were hurried through with little or no discussion. If hon. Members were present to transact the Business of the country, and if the control over expenditure was of the first importance, everything relating to them should be brought before the House at a time when they could be discussed with freshness and vigour. That had not been the case within his experience, and for that reason he thought there should be some modification and a recurrence to the Rule of 1872, which had been found efficient for all purposes. He was glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer had accepted a proposal made in that form.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, the House had to consider whether the Rule of 1872 or that of 1876 should be revived. He was glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had conceded something; but, in his opinion, he had not conceded quite enough in accepting the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex. He thought the House should divide upon the Amendment; but he was not so wedded to that course as to press it in the face of a strong expression of opinion to the contrary.
thought the question which was before the House was one affecting its dignity, and ought to be decided in accordance therewith. It was not the most dignified mode of procedure that they should be obliged to make a change in their Rules before going to bed; and it was, therefore, on the whole, desirable that they should have at least one night to consider the new proposal before it was finally decided upon. One remarkable circumstance about the proposal was that it entirely did away with the whole argument by which the Government had hitherto supported the Resolution. Why was that argument dropped? Had the Government been convinced that, instead of making a speech, the Minister should produce a printed Report to the House, and that there should be no speech at all? The Chancellor of the Exchequer had twitted independent 1582 Members with having wasted the time of the House; but that evening, at any rate, time had been wasted by the speeches of Ministers themselves. He did not speak in a spirit of hostility to Her Majesty's Government; but, having heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer over and over again that the subject of the Resolution was not one in which the Government was interested, that he made the proposition, not as a Member of the Government, but as a Member of their own Committee, he was compelled to say that the Representative of that Committee had, within the last 20 minutes, entirely changed the proposition which he was supposed to make to the House of Commons. He (Mr. Gorst) thought that the common sense and dignity of the House required that they should at least sleep over that proposition.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I quite agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Dodson), that the Business of the House has so completely altered within the last few years that it has become perfectly evident some changes in its form of procedure are necessary. I confess I have been sometimes astonished at the spirit of Conservatism which has animated the speeches of hon. Members on this side of the House, who have held that because certain forms have been found satisfactory in times gone by, they must be altogether satisfactory now. If there is one thing inherent to this debate, it is the fact that any attempt to alter those forms is a very serious matter, and one which cannot be lightly undertaken. It is perfectly clear that if any effective change is to be made in our procedure, it must be by a measure in the carrying of which the House is prepared to expend a considerable amount of time. It is evident that the House is not prepared to accept the conclusions of the Select Committee without full discussion, and without any responsibility in the matter being taken by the Government. I expressed my opinion at a very early period on Monday evening that the original proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not one which would really effect any great saving of time. With regard to the two propositions before the House, I think the Government must see that a very great objection is felt to revert- 1583 ing to the Rule of 1872. They have not yet conciliated the opposition to this Rule; I have waited on purpose to see if there was any prospect of an agreement on this proposal being arrived at, and I find there is not; but I believe that the Rule of 1876 might be accepted. If this were adopted, the Government would be able to consider whether any radical change in the procedure of the House is required or not, and if so, they could come forward next Session with proposals on their own responsibility; but to revert to the Rule of 1872, which has not been enforced for many Sessions, and to which many objections were taken, will, I believe, lead to a very considerable waste of time without producing any commensurate result. As far as my experience goes, I believe the Rule worked well; but I am not aware that it produced such a saving of time to the House that it would be worth the while of the Government to spend one or two more nights about it. The reason why I suggest a compromise on the basis of the Rule of 1876 is that I have heard it might be accepted, and that we might then proceed to the consideration of the other Resolutions. Whether that is so or not I do not know; but I feel that it will be impossible for the Government to come to any arrangement to-night with regard to the Rule of 1872.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I confess I was taken by surprise at the suggestion of the noble Lord who has just spoken, which was hardly what I should have expected after the proceedings of last Monday and this evening; but we must take things, however, as we find them. We are exceedingly obliged to the noble Lord for the kind attention he has paid to the interests of the Government; but I cannot myself accede to the suggestion which he has been good enough to make, and I prefer, under these circumstances, to trust to the mercies of the House rather than to the mercies of the noble Lord. I will ask hon. Members whether they think I have allowed myself to be guided by Party or personal feelings in modifying a proposal which appeared to me to be opposed to the views of a considerable body, if not to those of the majority, of the House? I have very largely diminished the demand which we made on the time of the 1584 House in carrying into effect a Rule which the noble Lord himself voted for in the Committee of last year. But these deeds of charity are immediately forgotten by those who benefit by them. I have with regard to the Supplemental and Special Estimates, always advocated that we should adopt the Rule proposed and carried by the Government of which the noble Lord was a Member, and which was in force during two or three years under an Administration of which he was so distinguished an ornament. After two evenings of debate, I have made a proposal to the House which is one that I have reason to believe is worthy of consideration, and which we are ready to consider as the best, since two proposals have been made. It has also been proposed, in a manner I think exceedingly fair, that the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Bart-telot.) should be taken as a basis on which we might decide the question. In this case the question arises as to the use of the word "first," and it is suggested that a division be taken as to whether that word be retained. If the majority are in favour of this proposition, there would be a decision one way or the other; but the question now at issue is one that cannot be postponed with advantage, and on which arguments have been thoroughly exhausted. It appears to me that we shall not be any the wiser if we adjourn till to-morrow or Monday, while if we are to decide the point at all, now is the time to do so. Let us take some divisions on the subject—as many divisions as you please—but let us come to a decision one way or another.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he was sure that hon. Members were very anxious to appreciate in a proper way he spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman had conducted his Resolutions. He was glad to learn that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not speak as a Minister, but only as Chairman of the Committee which sat last year, and which, he believed, was very much divided on the points under consideration. The right hon. Gentleman had himself told them that he had made many concessions. That was perfectly true; but with what object had they been made? As he said, in order to conciliate the opinions of a number of hon. Members who, al- 1585 though in a minority, were, nevertheless, an important minority. He (Mr. Chamberlain) begged to point out that however anxious he had been to conciliate that important minority, he had up to that time utterly failed to do so, and altogether misunderstood the feeling which actuated hon. Members on his side of the House. They were not acting in hostility to the Government, but simply wished to cherish the privileges of which they were possessed. In their opinion, the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) made the utmost concession possible, while that proposed as a substitute by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was altogether inadequate to remove their objection to the Resolution. They knew just as well as the right hon. Gentleman what would be the result of taking divisions on the subject, as he had proposed—namely, a large majority against them; but, at the same time, that would not prevent them discussing the matter to the very utmost, and calling upon all legitimate forms of the House in order to secure that an Amendment of such importance should not be made without the fullest possible consideration. He ventured to suggest that the adjournment should be taken then, and to assure the right hon. Gentleman that there were many hon. Members perfectly willing to take up his challenge and proceed to as many divisions as he could wish.
§ Question put.
§ THE House divided:—Ayes 57; Noes 143: Majority 86.—(Div. List, No. 18.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I shall be glad if the House will allow me to say one word. I regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be of opinion that he had any reason to complain of the course taken by myself in this matter. As far as I am aware, it has not been my desire to throw any obstacles in the way of the Government in the adoption of Resolutions recommended by the Committee of which I was a Member. The Chancellor of the Exchequer very truly said that I voted for the Resolution which has been proposed on the Motion for the Amendment proposed by the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex. I am also 1586 quite willing to admit that it was one proposed and adopted on the recommendation of the Government of which I was a Member. I, indeed, saw some objections to that course; but it is true that in Committee I gave it my support, and if the Government think it worth while to devote time to pass this Resolution, I am still ready to do so. But it is not possible that they should pass the Resolution of 1872 without a further considerable expenditure of time, while that of 1876 might be accepted at once. It is entirely a question for the consideration of the Government whether the subject is one of sufficient importance to justify them in devoting more time to its settlement. I am ready to support the Resolution which I supported in Committee; but it would be deceiving the Government and the House if I said that I thought that Resolution could be carried to-night. As far as I am able to judge of the temper of the House, that will not be the case.
§ MR. RYLANDS
I have to express in the fullest manner my appreciation of the extreme courtesy and consideration which have been manifested by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am quite sure that in dealing with this question he has met those who are most strongly opposed to this Resolution in the fairest possible spirit; and I think it only right that this House should understand that the Resolutions which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed are not in any way Government Resolutions, but Resolutions adopted by a majority of a Select Committee of this House appointed to consider the subject. I wish to point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the great object, as I have understood, of these Resolutions being proposed by Government, has been that there should be some certainty concerning the introduction of the Estimates; in other words, that when a Minister of the Crown comes down to this House, with a view of laying the annual Financial Statement of his Department before the House, he should have the opportunity of doing so, and of securing proper attention without being interrupted by the introduction of irrelevant Motions. But, Sir, I wish to point out that the Resolution of 1872 does not meet this requirement in any way whatever, because it is on the first occasion, on the 1587 Monday that the House goes into Committee of Supply on the Estimates, that it is competent for an hon. Gentleman to give Notice of Motion relative to Army or Navy matters. Until these Notices are disposed of, the Secretary of State, or First Lord, cannot make his Statement; and inasmuch as every hon. Member who wishes to raise a question on going into Committee of Supply knows perfectly well that the only chance he has of doing so would be on the occasion when the House first went into Committee of Supply, he would take care to put his Notice on the Paper at the earliest opportunity. The result would be that when the House first went into Committee on the Army or Navy Estimates, there would be such an accumulation of Motions that a certain number of Amendments would be carried over to the next Monday, and introduced on the same Motion. That was the case last year, when the Navy Estimates were to be brought forward. The Amendments were so numerous that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty waited two nights without an opportunity being afforded him of making his Financial Statement. What happened on the third night? On an appeal from the Leader of the House, a number of hon. Gentlemen who had Notices of Amendment withdrew them, in order that the First Lord should make his Statement at an early period of the ovening—hon. Gentlemen relinquished their right. What I would suggest as a fair and reasonable compromise would be this. That in return for the understanding that the First Lord of the Admiralty, or the Secretary of State for War, or a Minister in charge of Departments, should be allowed to make their Statements on the Motion that Mr. Speaker should leave the Chair, the Government might accept the Resolution of 1876. We should then have the certainty of the Ministers in charge of the Estimates bringing forward their Estimates on the first Monday; and on subsequent Mondays Amendments on going into Committee would be restricted to matter relevant to the question. I venture to make this suggestion as a means of a compromise. Before I sit down, I propose to move the adjournment of the House, but hope that we shall not be bound to go to a division. I trust that 1588 the Government will see their way to come to an arrangement such as I have ventured to suggest. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Rylands.)
§ MR. J. R. YORKE
said, the adoption by the Government of the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex was no concession at all; but was, on the contrary, illusory in its character.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that the Resolution originally proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was one that had received the support of the majority of the Committee appointed to consider the question. He trusted the House would not be guilty of such an exaggerated piece of Conservatism as to turn round suddenly and say, after their Committee had reported certain changes to be necessary—"We made a mistake in appointing the Committee," and to every change, however small, to cry non possumus.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that in view of the lateness of the hour he thought it desirable that the House should adjourn, the Government not having shown any inclination to make any bond fide concession.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he had listened with very great attention to the remarks which had been made by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain). It appeared to him that the subject had been discussed in every possible way. If he had thought that any unfair advantage had been taken of the House he would have been the very first to protest against it, and support the Motion for the adjournment; but, on the contrary, it appeared to him that the minority had been a little too hard upon the Government. Because, what had taken place on Thursday night? The Chancellor of the Exchequer had given Notice that he should bring on these Resolutions on Monday; they were down upon the Paper on Friday, and not one single word of objection was urged against their being taken, either on Thursday or Friday; but when they came down on Monday a very considerable objection was urged against the order of proceeding. It, therefore, seemed to him that the Government 1589 had in no way attempted to deal unfairly with the House. He was also of opinion that in discussing this subject many independent Members were apt to fall into the mistake of thinking that the Government were interested in passing the Resolutions then proposed, whereas it appeared to him that those most interested were the independent Members themselves. They were sincerely anxious to proceed to the early consideration of the Estimates, because, owing to the present practice, there was really no Vote of Supply taken except towards the end of the Session, in June or July, when the House was often wearied out and exhausted. The House ought to insist upon having Supply brought on at a period when they were certain that discussion could take place. He was bound to point out that in 1872, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) was Prime Minister, he made a proposal identical with that now brought forward by the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot). At that time, many independent Members below the Gangway voted in favour of that proposal. He thought that his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), and his hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), should have pointed out in what respect they considered that the Resolution had worked badly. Looking back to 1872, and comparing what took place at that time with what took place last year and the year previous, it seemed to him that the vote given by them in 1872 was justified, and that they had a much better chance of getting control over expenditure when they could come down to the House knowing distinctly that at some particular hour the Vote which they wanted to criticize would come on. But during the last two Sessions the case had been very different, for then they came down night after night, not knowing whether any particular Vote would be reached, while their patience became exhausted, and the feeling came over the House that the criticism of Parliamentary Estimates was altogether useless. It therefore appeared clear that some such proposition as that either of the hon. Member for Glasgow or of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex ought to be carried. As far as he could see, the Government ap- 1590 peared to have acted with perfect frankness and fairness, and he hoped, in consequence, that the House would that evening come to some decision.
§ DR. O'LEARY
remarked that, although he was no politician, he had always considered that consistency of Party was one of the great principles of the House. Looking at the Division List which he held in his hand, he was much preplexed to find that amongst those who voted on the 26th February, 1872, in favour of Motions in almost every respect similar to those now objected to, were the names of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) and the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands). The name of the latter hon. Gentleman had been so conspicuous in the present debate, and his energies so thoroughly marked, that he was sure the House would forgive him for only citing the name of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands).
§ MR. M'LAREN
considered the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow as much preferable to that of the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), and he should, therefore, vote for the former. The limitation of Amendments to three days practically appeared to him a perfect mockery.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he rose to express his opinion that the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), in his anxiety for economy, had forgotten that beside the useful work of keeping down expenditure, the House had also the function to discharge, of explaining, exposing, and, as far as possible, redressing the grievances of the subject. He thought that if they were to support the refusal of the Government to allow Notices strictly relevant to be proceeded with they would be abrogating their most useful function. With regard to the facilitation of Public Business, he would express his opinion that the obstruction complained of would be in no way prevented by any such Resoution as that proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was only calculated to obstruct the ventilation of public grievances in that House. His own view on the subject of obstruction, after having studied it, was that when any obstruction arose it should be dealt with summarily. He thought that both Governments and individual Members should have the courage of their opi- 1591 nions, and that there was no poorer way of trying to deal with the question than by denying to the whole people the right of having their grievances ventilated. With regard to a concession on which the Government laid stress—namely, the concession of being allowed to raise a Motion on going into Committee of Ways and Means, were they to understand that to be bonâ fide? Was it possible that Notices on going into Committee of Ways and Means could be fully and fairly discussed if, as had been too frequently the case, the Committee of Ways and Means only made its appearance at the very end of the evening? It was only too clear that the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be a purely illusory concession, for it was not at 12 or 1 o'clock in the morning that they could go fresh into the consideration of Motions preceding Ways and Means; therefore, if the Government would not assure them and place in the Resolution an engagement that the Committee of Ways and Means should be taken at a time which would allow a full discussion and investigation of grievances, that so-called concession was illusory to the last degree. He was very happy on that occasion not to be speaking as a Party man; but he was utterly unable to see in the arguments advanced, especially in those of hon. Members on the front Opposition Bench, any justification for the course they had pursued. Their argument was that for many years the Business of the House had been increasing, and the conclusion they drew was that instead of maintaining the liberty of the subject in proportion to the increase of Business, the facilities for control should be diminished. He thought that according as the necessity for taking up more and more subjects, and for dealing with larger and larger portions of Public Business presented itself, so the right of exposing the grievances of the subject in that increasing sphere of Parliamentary action should be carefully guarded. He thought that recourse even to those foreign methods of not permitting the interpellation of Ministers, except after due form and with the control and permission of semi-official bodies, would be less objectionable than the proposals of the Government. He felt that three months in the year would be utterly inadequate to discussing 1592 fairly and temperately the grievances that by right should be laid before Parliament. If the Government would accept the Amendment that only Motions relevant to the Estimates should be considered on Mondays, he believed that the House would be satisfied. How many objections had been taken to his (Mr. O'Donnell's) action on various points! Yet it happened that on Monday he had never taken any Motion to which objection had been raised, although that had never made the Government more resigned to his action on other days. It had been hinted that greater liberty in Committee would be the reward of surrendering the discussion of grievances previous to Supply; but if that suggestion were acted upon, he would altogether refuse to accept it as any reason for admitting the Government proposal. They should, by all means, discuss grievances at the proper time, and then deal with the Estimates from a purely business point of view. He did not know on what grounds the Liberal front Opposition Bench had acted; but if they were actuated by any kind of desire to enjoy greater freedom when they should be a Government again—greater freedom of neglecting the liberty of the subject—by backing up another Cabinet, he would only remind them that in their hurry to throw overboard the proper consideration of the rights of independent Members, they might jeopardise their chances of ever seeing themselves a Government again.
§ MR. CALLAN
pointed out that amongst the opponents to the Rule of 1872, the Division List contained the names of Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson, Secretary to the Treasury; George Cavendish Bentinck; the Secretary of State for the Colonies; the right hon. the Home Secretary, Sir William Hart Dyke, Rowland Winn, Lord George Hamilton, James Lowther, and W. H. Smith. He asked that the proposition of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) should be accepted by the Government, and he urged this particularly on the ground that they would only be endorsing their own action in 1872.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, that as far as consistency was concerned, they had voted on the occasion referred to upon the ground that the question had not up to that time been 1593 sufficiently considered, and that a further Committee should be appointed. Their object, however, had been attained by the appointment of last year's Committee, and their position was therefore not quite that represented by the hon. Member for Dundalk (Mr. Callan).
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he had no doubt that the hon. Baronet himself had distinctly stated his reasons for the vote; but he would remember that he walked out of the House when the second Division occurred.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, there was a far more important question than that of consistency to be considered—namely, the question between the Rules of 1872 and 1876. The former had been adopted, rightly or wrongly, in the last Parliament, and Her Majesty's Government, having had experience of that Rule, deliberately came to the conclusion that it was not necessary or proper for the conduct of Public Business. The former Loader of the House (the Earl of Boaconsfield) had come to the conclusion that the more this question was left alone the better. In 1876 a different policy was adopted. What was the Rule introduced by Her Majesty's Government? Was it the Rule of 1872? No. Acting upon their experience, they deliberately rejected that, and adopted the Rule of 1876, which they now asked the House to reject in favour of the one they themselves rejected. Of all the plans which had been proposed, that of 1872 was the worst. The House required that when Supply came on the Minister should make his Statement; but the Rule of 1872 made that impossible, inasmuch as the preliminary Motions could not, and would not, give way; for if they did, they would never get another opportunity. On many occasions these Motions had been waived out of courtesy; but the proposal of the Government made it absolutely certain that these Motions would not be withdrawn, while it did not secure to independent Members of the House those opportunities for discussion which they desired, and which he thought they had a right to have. It seemed to him a most futile and most extraordinary result to a discussion of two nights that they should not take the recommendations of the Committee and of Her Majesty's Government in 1876, but an old Rule which 1594 had been tried and abandoned. If they were to do anything, they should do something efficient. He believed that the recommendation of his noble Friend, made on the first night of discussion, was a substantial reform in the proceedings of the House, while he was quite sure that the Rule of 1872 was no practical reform at all. It had been condemned by Her Majesty's Government during the whole of the present Parliament, and rather than adopt such an ineffectual plan as that, he (Sir William Harcourt) thought it better to leave the matter alone.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I do not want to go on with this controversy, but would suggest to hon. Members the desirability of coming to some decision upon the question before them with as little delay as possible, instead of repeating the same arguments over and over again. The hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down now says that the Rule of 1872 will be of no use at all. I admit that it leaves us still open to the difficulty with reference to the Army, Navy, and Civil Service Estimates; but we gain the grand point at which we aim.
§ MR. STACPOOLE
considered that in the event of an adjournment some day ought to be fixed for the settlement of the question.
§ Question put.
§ THE House divided:—Ayes 43; Noes 121: Majority 78.—(Div. List, No. 19.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. DILLWYN moved that the debate be adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Dillwyn.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I shall, of course, not resist the Motion at this late hour—1.50. With reference to the continuanee of the debate, we shall propose to take it as the first Order on Monday next before the Army Estimates.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.