§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [26th February].—See page 1463.]
And which Amendment was,
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "during a Debate, whether in the House or in Committee, any Member may draw the attention of the Chair to misconduct on the part of a Member who in addressing the House may persistently endeavour to prevent the Progress of Business, by rising in his place and taking Notice that the Member for is wilfully obstructing the Business of this House.
Whereupon (unless in the judgment of the Chair the interruption is frivolous and unfounded, in which case he shall call on the Member in possession of the House to proceed), Mr. Speaker (or the Chairman) shall forthwith put the Question 'That be not further heard,' which Question shall be decided without amendment or debate, but the Motion shall not be carried by a majority of less than two-thirds if a Division is called.
Any Member so put to silence shall stand suspended from the service of the House for one week.
Any Member put to silence twice in the same Session shall stand suspended from the service of the House for one calendar month, and for such further period until he shall have submitted himself to the House and given assurance that he will not so offend again,"—(Mr. Sampson Lloyd,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'whenever' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SHAW
said, he did not intend to occupy the House at any great length; but he wished to say something on the general question. He could not object, speaking generally, to the Resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for he thought them preferable to the other Resolutions on the Paper. If anything were done he would rather have authority placed in the hands of the Speaker in- 1581 stead of the matter being left to the indiscriminate action of the House. A Speaker's decisions were almost always unchallengeable, and never had they been more so than in the case of the present occupant of the Chair, in whose hands every hon. Gentleman would feel himself perfectly safe. He thought it would be invidious to call on the House to vote upon the ruling of the Speaker; and he should not like such a decision to be left to the few who were in the House when the offence was committed, or to the many who might be called in by the ringing of the bell, and who would know nothing of what had taken place. He was, therefore, strongly in favour of leaving the whole matter in the hands of the Speaker. But the second part of the Resolution relating to the Chairman of Committees required much more consideration. He had not a word to say against the hon. Gentleman who held that position at present, and who discharged his duties with great ability and impartiality. But the Chairman of Committees was generally regarded as part of the machinery of the Government—he was a Party man, and voted on Party questions; and it was, therefore, undesirable to place in his hands the question of suspending a Member of the House. Moreover, in some protracted Sittings there was a succession of Chairmen, and a matter of such importance as the suspension of a Member ought not to be intrusted to a temporary Chairman. As to the degree of punishment in the Resolution, he thought that if any Member should commit the offence three times in one Session the punishment proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not at all too severe. He did not see any object in making a change in the proposal before the House, because he hoped that if this Rule were passed the Speaker would very seldom or never have to act under it. The highest and best feeling of every Member of that House would rise up in every case and aid the Speaker in the discharge of his duty. If it were found that a Member offended three times, he should consider him such an unmitigated fool that the amount of punishment would be of little consequence. It would be impossible to cure such an offender by increasing the punishment. For his own part, he deemed it an honour to have a seat in that House; 1582 he had never done anything to interfere with the Business, and he should give his aid to Her Majesty's Government and to the Speaker, as presiding over that Assembly, in maintaining the dignity and facilitating the conduct of the Business of the House. He did not understand how any men could deliberately think that by persistent Obstruction they could do any good to themselves or to any cause they had at heart. It had been said, he believed, that the House would in time be so disgusted by persistent obstruction that it would do something which certain hon. Gentlemen very much desired. The thing was perfectly absurd. He had seen the idea stated in Irish newspapers, and had treated it as childish nonsense. The matter was, in fact, beyond the pale of reasoning altogether. If any man was so absurd in his ideas of public life as to think that, a year or two in that House would cure him. Another view had also been lately taken. It had been stated that after the next General Election the Home Rulers would come into the House in such strength of numbers that they would make an alliance with the Liberal Party and force them to carry out their views. That had been stated, he thought, from the other side of the House; it had certainly been stated in I newspapers which were the organs of the other side of the House. Nothing, could be more absurd and childish If such a course were possible nothing could be more discreditable and dishonourable to the Members of the Liberal' Party. But there was nothing in the history of the Party to justify the insulting aspersion that, for the sake of the paltry pay and the honour of sitting for a few years on the Treasury Bench, its holders would deliberately give up their principles, and carry out a policy which they disapproved. If that was the hope of the Home Rulers they would be miserably disappointed. He believed that there were two ways by which a nation might gain its ends—one was by fighting, if it were able to fight; the other was by constitutional, rational, intelligent agitation. The only hope the Home Rulers had of gaining their ends was by bringing the public opinion of this country into the groove in which they wished it to run. He trusted the objects sought for would be so presented that the English people would come to see their fair- 1583 ness and their justice. He would not sit there a moment if he did not think that in course of time the Home Rule Party could accomplish their ends. Those ends, he believed, were fairly within the possibilities of constitutional political action, and entirely within the bounds of political agitation. He had the fullest and most complete faith in the ultimate decision of the English people, although they sometimes had fits of insanity, as all strong people and animals did when they got too fat. But they came to their senses at last, and no people in the world were more capable of judging fairly and acting rightly. It was only by constitutional action and by bringing public opinion round to their views that he would for a moment think of seeking the ends which the Home Rule Party had at heart. Here he would take the liberty of making one or two suggestions. One was that the Government should endeavour to introduce measures suitable to the different sections of the Empire. Ireland was far behind England in social and political advancement. Legislation was required in reference to a number of questions which it would be absurd to legislate about in England. The English people were in an independent position, and they could not at all understand the position of the people of Ireland or those who pleaded for them. He would entreat hon. Gentlemen to look carefully at those great questions which were the foundation of national prosperity. Self-dependence in England had made everything. Let it be fostered and cherished in Ireland, and let the people be helped to obtain the same results. Were the Government doing this? Nothing of the kind. Were they endeavouring to foster a good spirit between the two peoples? He would only refer to a speech recently delivered in the North by a right hon. Gentleman who was a Member of the present Government, and who said bands of marauders went about at night in Ireland inflicting all kinds of injuries on unoffending men. Was that true? Was there any such thing in Munster, Ulster, or Leinster? There might have been a few cases in Connaught; but it was wrong to compare the Ireland of to-day in that respect with the Ireland of 40 or 50 years ago; and it was most extraordinary that a Gentleman occupying such a position, taking the money of the State to do the work of 1584 the State, should have made a speech to leave on the minds of his hearers an impression that that was the condition of the whole country. The right hon. Gentleman went on to ask how people could wonder at the gentlemen of Ireland being absentees, when, if they went to their estates, the first thing they received was a missive with a drawing of a death's head and cross bones.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
rose to a point of Order. He wished to know whether the observations of the hon. Member for Cork with reference to the state of Ireland were pertinent to the question of the re-organization of the discipline of the House, which was now before the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Cork is making some general observations with regard to the development of Ireland. I did not interpose; but I am bound to say that those observations do not appear to me to be closely relevant to the Question before the House.
§ MR. SHAW
said, he would not persevere in that line of remark. They were now considering the Business of the House, and he thought it would be a very wise thing for the House to regard the question in rather a broader view than that of making a change in the powers of the right hon. Gentleman who presided over their deliberations. Would it not be worth while for the Government and the Leaders of the House to link themselves together in order to place on a solid foundation the Business for consideration? Did anyone imagine that the House could do the business of the three countries? Was it not the pressure of Business that caused the unpleasantness there had been on both sides of the House? Such a mass of Business, extending over the whole Empire, was brought forward that it was physically impossible to get through it. Would it not be wiser, instead of trying to suppress and repress, to endeavour to lay down some new lines for the conduct of the Business of the House? He was entirely in favour of the suggestion that they should have Grand Committees of the House; and if some Bills affecting Ireland, such as had, even that Session, occupied night after night, had been submitted to a proper Grand Committee, they would have occupied hardly any of the time of the House, and would have been passed in a much more business-like 1585 form than they had been. Business and common sense would then have found their proper place, and everything like nonsense would have disappeared. Business would then come down to the House in a shape capable of being discussed. He hoped Government would look at this fully, and endeavour to make some arrangements for facilitating the Business of the House. The question was, what was the meaning of the Resolution? He did not want to occupy time in going over the debate; but it had been said it had been of an electioneering character. He was rather afraid it was. He was not disposed to put the worst construction on human nature; but, looking at the whole case, it must be acknowledged to have something of an electioneering character. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) said that the Government were coerced by public opinion on this subject. He did not believe there was any great mass of public opinion on it. The newspapers, it was true, were writing in a very unfortunate style on this subject. But how was that public opinion originated? The first note of it was struck by the Prime Minister when he made the extraordinary declaration that those who were in favour of Home Rule were traitors to their country and their Sovereign. Of course, it was the merest piece of buncombe done in the highest style of art. There was nothing he more regretted himself than not having heard it, because he remembered many of those things, and he remembered the style in which they were done at the Table in front of the Speaker. That was followed by a lot of writing in the newspapers in London; but there was no public opinion in England generally against Home Rule. There was a public opinion in England just as much as in Ireland against persistent and senseless obstruction; but there was no public opinion against Home Rule within the lines of the Constitution. The hon. and learned Member for Louth, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition went back a few years for the origin of this obstruction, and he (Mr. Shaw) would follow their example. One of the most extraordinary pieces of obstruction, and conducted in a most scientific manner, was recorded in theLife of Lord George Bentinck,and it was performed in the House of 1586 Commons in 1846 or 1847. The Irish Coercion Bill was run against the Corn Laws. It was done in the most scientific way possible; but then it was done by the noble Lord the Prime Minister, so it could not have any harm it. But, in fact, there was hardly a period in which obstruction had not been the imperative duty of the minority of the House of Commons. As for the writings in the newspapers, and this attempt to get up a spirit of hatred between England and Ireland, it was one of the things above all others to be reprobated. It was one that might lead to results that no man in his senses could look forward to without fear and trembling. Was it nothing that two peoples who must live side by side and with sympathies in common should have good feelings towards each other? Was it nothing that for mere political purposes, for certain temporary objects, there should be an attempt to create a feeling against a certain class, and that the worst passions of Party should be fanned into a flame? It was one of the most deplorable things that could occur. They might talk about agitations in Ireland in which England was denounced; he acknowledged that there was something of the sort. He deplored it; but was that a reason why men in high position in England should indulge in that kind of speaking and writing to which he had referred? He trusted that when this Resolution was passed the thing might come to an end. But was it the intention to prevent the full and free discussion of any measure that might be brought forward? The professed intention was, of course, to put down deliberate and senseless obstruction. He was surprised to read a published statement by a noble Lord on the Treasury Bench that obstruction was almost an hourly occurrence. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the contrary, had said that there was nothing of the kind this Session. At any rate, he hoped there would be no attempt to prevent Members from discussing any Bill they objected to. Such a course, he believed, would bring disaster to the Empire. If they—the Irish Members—found that they could not get fair play, that they were voted down, and crushed down, their duty would be plain. It would be, as a body to leave the House; and he, for one, would not hesitate for a moment to take the responsibility of ad- 1587 vising that course. They would leave this House, and say to their constituents that they could get no justice here, no consideration, nothing but force; that they might do some good at home, but none in the House of Commons. He had no doubt that better feelings and principles would gain the mastery, and he was sure that those who were responsible for the conduct of Public Business would not attempt to repress an honest and free discussion. Men of little sense and narrow minds might try to draw the Leaders to a different course of action; but he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman who led that House would always beat down such interference, and that in the future, as to a great extent in the past, they would have the fullest liberty to express their opinions.
Sir, I cannot but think that Members of this House in general must have listened to the speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, although he may have departed in some degree from the literal and technical forms of discussion, with strong emotions of sympathy and respect. I, of course, am not of the opinion professed by my hon. Friend upon the important question to which he refers; but I must say that the spirit of thorough manliness in which he approaches this question, and which he unites with a spirit of thorough kindliness to us, and with an evident disposition to respect both the functions of this House and the spirit of the English Constitution, does give hope that if the relations between England and Ireland are to become thoroughly satisfactory the most important contribution to that essential end will have been made by my hon. Friend and those who speak like him. I do not think it right to allow this subject to pass with only a silent vote on my part; because, although I am not in a position to make any important contribution to the materials of judgment possessed by the House, yet, considering the novelty of the subject—the strangeness of the subject, combined with its importance—it is, perhaps, right that one who has passed, I think, more hours within the walls of this House than anyone who now sits within it, should not evade the responsibility of taking his part either in approbation or in objection to the course adopted by the Government. In the 1588 first place, I thoroughly concur with my noble Friend the Leader of the Opposition as to the deference due to the Government in a matter of this kind, not only because of their general responsibility—exceeding that of all others—for the good conduct of the Business of the House, but likewise because they have, after all, a more thorough and continuous knowledge of what has taken place, and of the amount of necessity for action that can possibly belong to any of us who are private and independent Members. I myself am bound to say that, not being as good an attendant of this House as I have been in earlier years, I have, perhaps, less original knowledge of the necessity of the proposal than a great many of those who are at this moment listening to me. But I am not wanting in disposition to refer to those who have greater opportunities of knowledge; and it appears to me the presumption is that a case has arisen in which it is desirable for this House to take some measure in the direction indicated by the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I must further say that if deference is due to the Government officially in regard to the proposal that they now make, I think their claim is very much strengthened by the tone and spirit of the speeches that have been made from the Ministerial Bench. I heard the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the speech of the Postmaster General last night; and if, as has been said by my hon. Friend who spoke last, there has been anything in the mind of anyone of an electioneering spirit in connection with the production of these Resolutions, it must be, I think, in candour admitted that there was not the slightest trace of that spirit in either of those speeches. And I go further, and say this—that it is quite evident, if the Government had chosen to make a proposition of a more stringent character, they would, though, perhaps, at a greater expenditure of time, have been able probably to carry it through the House. I think the Postmaster General laid, down a just and true principle, when he indicated that it was not the duty of the Government in a matter of this kind to excite feeling, but rather to temper and restrain it; and that, on the whole, the safe course for them to take is, if there must be error, to err on the 1589 side of leniency rather than on the opposite side. In truth, it appears to me that the great importance of a Resolution of this kind, after all, does not, perhaps, lie exclusively or mainly in the particular condition it embodies; but it lies in this—that it is a strong indication of the sense and determination of the House to perform its duty and maintain its dignity; and it is a pledge given by the House to the country that whatever measure it may find in the course of its experience to be necessary for those ends it will fearlessly adopt. With regard to the particulars of these Resolutions, I, following my noble Friend the Leader of the Opposition, will say at least as much as he said. I have no intention of making any proposal in opposition to what may be the ultimate and well-considered view of the Government. The first point on which I will say one word is a point that I have not yet heard introduced by either of those Cabinet Ministers who have addressed the House. It is sufficiently exhibited by the two words "or otherwise" in the fifth line of the Resolution; and I must seek for an explanation of those words, or of the necessity for any words of that description. As far as I understand the matter, we are not here engaged in discussing the general weakness or insufficiency of the Rules of the House; but we are discussing a particular evil which it is thought necessary to meet by some special measure. That evil has been carefully defined in the Resolution by the words "persistently and wilfully obstructing the Business of the House;" but the Resolution goes beyond the persistent and wilful obstruction of the Business, and states that, apart from any such thing as persistent and wilful obstruction of the House, if there shall have been by any Member an abuse of the Rules of the House, then the penalties contemplated by the Resolution shall come into force. I own, at the present time, in the absence of explanations on this subject, that evidently the dictate of prudence and common I sense is, while adopting means sufficient for our needs, to confine ourselves strictly to business connected with the end we have in view, and not to attempt to constitute a new Order, and still less to call into existence an Order giving a new and undefined power for classes of offences upon which we have not said a word, 1590 and for which, so far as I know, there is not the smallest reason to believe that they have existed, or, at all events, that they have existed in any degree greater than has been borne in other times or in our own time with any intolerable inconvenience. I hope that that observation will be felt not in any manner to touch the vital portion of this measure and the object which Her Majesty's Government have in view, and I have no doubt that it will receive your careful consideration. Next to that I come to the term that "such Member shall be suspended from the service of the House," and I do hope that there will be such thought given to the question whether it is worth the while of the House to extend the penalty to the voting of the inculpated Member. I do not now speak in the slightest degree in the interest of the Member who has offended. If it is a question of the amount of his offence, and the insufficiency of the punishment inflicted, I would give him a larger punishment if necessary—but I am reluctant to punish constituencies. Now, there are many cases in the House in which this obstruction might occur in which the constituents might have a very strong and special interest, and where they might suffer seriously and severely from the disqualification of their Member from, voting. On the other hand, it is obvious that the voting of a Member does not obstruct the House. It does not delay its proceedings. I speak in ignorance of the considerations which may have governed the Administration in making this proposal; but I am at present so strongly under the distinct impression that the disability of voting is in so large a degree a punishment inflicted upon the constituency for the offence of the Member, that constituency not being in the view of the House guilty in any degree of sharing the offence of the Member or responsible for it, that I hope the subject may receive the careful consideration of the Government. I presume that, as the words now stand, the words "suspended from the service of the House" include what I may call corporal expulsion from the walls of the House, because the Member who is present, even without speaking, yet votes upon all those questions which are carried without a division. I conclude there is no doubt of the meaning of those words; but I may say that it is very desir- 1591 able that any words which may be used should be perfectly clear and unambiguous, and that if is the intention of the House to have this corporal expulsion it should be plainly and distinctly expressed in the Resolution. Then we come to the very serious and very difficult question with regard to supporting, or appearing to support, the judgment of the Speaker by the votes of the House. I own that I share the opinion that has been given by my noble Friend the Leader of the Opposition, by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), and especially, I may say, by my hon. Friend who has just sat down, that the judgment should proceed from the Chairman, and that both the House and the Speaker would be placed in something of a false position by the preference of the House itself. In such an event there might be some risk of a trial of the Speaker. But my hon. Friend who has just sat down was the first person who has unfolded a little the difficult question which I dare say Her Majesty's Government felt in regard to the Chairman of Committees. But it is not only the official Chairman of Committees that we have also to consider; we have also to keep in view the casual and temporary Chairman of Committees. It is possible that this consideration and the necessity of some confirmatory vote may have an influence in determining Her Majesty's Government in the course they may take; and I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend who spoke last that there is a much greater difficulty in that portion of the case than in the portion of the case which concerns the Speaker in the Chair, and all I can say is that whatever may be the Resolution of Her Majesty's Government upon the subject I shall not venture to dissent from it by an adverse vote. There is one more question on which I think I may say a word, although I believe it is in the 2nd Resolution before the House. I do not see the advantage of constituting this new scheme at once a Standing Order. I do not see what is gained for it from the point of view of the Government. The whole thing is necessarily experimental. That is not the fault of the Government; but it is extremely difficult to tell beforehand—I am sure those who have considered the matter most will feel the truth of what I say—what will be the precise effect and operation of the 1592 different parts of the Resolution, if, which we all deprecate, it should become a practical measure. Why deprive yourselves of the benefit of experiment? You want to make a provision for the present Parliament; why are we to attempt, considering the extreme limitation of our own knowledge of the matter, and the great difficulty of forming confident forecasts in a matter so entirely new—why are we to deal with it conclusively? Why not leave the new Parliament, which will have to consider the subject, perfectly free and open for its consideration? I am entirely ignorant what advantage the Chancellor of the Exchequer would obtain from making this a Standing Order. Further consideration of the matter must be, and I ask that the further consideration should be, as free and unprejudiced as possible. I will not push further any of these remarks. I must give in my concurrence to what was said both by my noble Friend the Leader of the Opposition and by my hon. Friend who has just sat down as to the comparatively limited nature of the proposals we have before us, and, in fact, of the subject to which they relate. The disposition to obstruct wherever it exists—and do not let us conceal for ourselves that in its minor and more innocent forms of development it exists—very recently and very widely for temporary and special purposes perhaps; but the disposition to obstruct is mainly fostered by the difficulty of the position in which the House finds itself in consequence of the enormous mass of Business it has to do. Here lies. Sir, the root of the matter. I was reading only to-day in a newspaper an account given by the agent of that newspaper of an interview which he had been fortunate enough to obtain with Prince Bismarck, and, after having endeavoured to extract from the deep mind of the Prince all that he could with regard to foreign and Continental politics, the journalist proceeded to feel his pulse on the subject of English politics. The principal thing he was able to get out of Prince Bismarck—a man of few words, and all those words pithy and strong—was contained in these few terms "The English have too many irons in the fire." Now, it is the number of irons in the fire—it is the enormous mass of Business attached to the House as it now exists in its present 1593 functions—under the most favourable circumstances a mass of Business beyond the power of any Assembly to transact—that gives facility and temptation to obstruction, and that it is which calls for some effective measure if this is possible. Reference has been made to the practice abroad of what is termed theclôture;but let us observe and bear in mind that, whatever theclôturemay be as a means of saving the time of a deliberative Assembly, it is, I think—and so I presume Her Majesty's Government have thought—inapplicable to the present discussion, because, as a penal measure, it would surely be altogether inappropriate. Theclôtureis not the stoppage of a particular Member who is supposed to have offended, it is the stoppage of the debate; and, therefore, to bring in theclôturefor the purposes which this Resolution contemplates would be simply to enact that the House would punish itself, and the great interests with which it is charged, in consequence of the offence of a particular Member. I do not know whose happy lot it may be to see the day when there may be wisely devised and successfully carried through this House an important and effectual measure for the devolution of such portions of its powers as can be safely devolved, with a view to lightening the duties of the House. It is quite impossible that the House can discharge its duties effectually until some such measures can be devised and shall be carried out. Do not let it be supposed that if there be those who complain of the idleness of the House in general, or of this particular Parliament, that I am disposed to join in that complaint. Certainly, Sir, with respect to the present Parliament, it has been my misfortune to differ very largely and widely, indeed, from its proceedings; but this testimony I most readily bear—that I do not believe there has ever been a Parliament and an Administration more diligent in the discharge of its duties. It is, therefore, not from want of diligence that the difficulty has arisen. The main causes lie in the enormous functions that have really gone beyond what the human mind and strength, and the time allotted to us, can possibly discharge. I am very glad that my noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) and my hon. Friend (Mr. Shaw) have, by a few words, directed the attention 1594 of the House and the country to this subject. I am afraid there is out-of-doors, and in some portions of the Press—and I may almost say it has been visible in certain speeches delivered elsewhere—a disposition to magnify enormously, to exaggerate the question that we are now in immediate course of dealing with, and to propogate an idea that, provided we can only pass a good Resolution upon this subject, the difference will disappear, that everybody will be able to make his Motions and carry his Bills, and that nobody will be able to say at the end of the Session that there is an arrear of Business. That is a gross delusion, and it is impossible to be too earnest in our endeavour to dissipate this idea. The causes really lie elsewhere, far deeper than the mischiefs with which we are now endeavouring to deal. But it does not follow that it is not most reasonable to deal with those systematic mischiefs; and I feel it my duty to acknowledge the fair and considerate spirit in which they have thus far been dealt with by Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. MOWBRAY
said, that if anything could prove that the Resolutions before the House were a matter of the greatest necessity, such proof would be afforded by the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich and that of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. First, reference had been made to the proposal of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the decision should rest with the House, and not with the Speaker. He was more inclined to agree with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the City of Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) and the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that the suspension of a Member should take place in consequence of a Standing Order of the House rather than be brought about by the vote of that House. He thought that the Speaker was the best person to judge of the conduct of any Member. There was this danger—that if the Speaker appealed to a thin House and a division took place in which a large number of the Friends of the inculpated Member came flowing into the House, the result would not be satisfactory. As to the punishment to be inflicted, he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer rather erred on the 1595 side of leniency, though doubtless it was wiser to propose the matter in this shape, leaving its complete form to be determined by the discussion. It would be well to define what was meant by a Sitting, because they had had very protracted Sittings, especially in July, 1877. This Parliament having had more than three years' experience of obstruction, it was necessary to pass these Resolutions. There was no desire whatever to interfere with the legitimate freedom of debate, or with the privileges of hon. Members. The only object was to prevent obstruction. Let them hand down to the next Parliament a Standing Order for this purpose. It was the only way to deal effectually with this gigantic and growing evil. The whole question had been brought up on former occasions and had been re-opened. They had carefully considered every suggestion which had been brought before the House in 1878. Having all these before them, they were in a position to make the Resolution a Standing Order of the House and hand it on to the next House of Commons.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he had no wish to speak at length, but thought it desirable he should have the opportunity of expressing, in a few words, his intention of supporting the Government in the steps they had taken to meet what might, under some circumstances, be a great evil in the conduct of Business. Technically, the House was discussing the Amendment of the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Sampson Lloyd); but as it was understood that the hon. Gentleman was ready to withdraw it, it was not necessary to refer to it. The Government, in taking the initiative in regard to this important change in the Business of the House, had relieved the other side of the House of much responsibility. He had always felt that any hon. Member putting forward a proposition such as that which the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had put upon the Paper was assuming a responsibility that really belonged to Government; and though the hon. Gentleman should have full credit for his motives, it must be really a gratification to him to find the Government take upon themselves the responsibility of carrying it through. In passing, he must say that in the preparatory steps the Government were unfortunate in departing 1596 from the usual precedent in not consulting with the Leaders of the Opposition upon the terms of the Resolution the Government intended to lay before the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made an excuse that his departure from the ordinary course was because they had adopted the recommendation of the Select Committee; but it was not the fact that the Committee recommended exactly such a Resolution as now appeared, and he (Mr. Rylands) thought it would have been wiser if they had given the noble Lord an opportunity of making suggestions before placing the proposal before the House. The proposal, however, was laid on the Table without such a consultation; and the result was that the noble Lord, in a speech which must be admired for its clearness and ability, though he pointed out parts of the Resolution where he thought alterations might advantageously be made, yet he said he left the ultimate form of the Resolution to the responsibility of the Government, and would not move Amendments. He (Mr. Rylands) entirely agreed with the noble Lord that it was unfortunate Government had not consulted the leading Members of the Opposition side; but having heard the suggestion from the Front Bench, he hoped Government would be prepared to modify their proposals without putting the House to a division. So far as he was concerned, with the exception of the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), in favour of making it a Sessional and not a Standing Order, he should decline to support any Amendments that had not the sanction of the Government. They had, on their responsibility, brought this Resolution before the House, with the object of dealing with what they believed to be a growing evil in the conduct of the proceedings of the House of Commons; and he was bound to say, although some Amendment might be made with advantage, yet they had treated the question with prudence and moderation. They were not now entering upon a crusade against legitimate obstruction—on both sides he hoped there was no wish to destroy that, because it was one of the essential matters in connection with a deliberative Assembly that a minority should retain the power of 1597 checking the action of the majority. All the Rules of the House of Commons implied the existence of this legitimate obstruction, and encouraged full opportunity for the exercise of the power in discussing the several stages of Bills. The Votes in Supply, the Report of Supply, the Appropriation Bill, in fact, in every direction, it would be found that the arrangements of the House of Commons had been wisely made to secure the minority opportunities by means of obstruction of resisting the will of the majority, who perhaps by hasty legislation were taking a course contrary to the public interest, and who, but for that check of the minority, might pass measures having an evil and permanent effect. He would not be a party to remove that power because of the obstruction in former Parliaments. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite obstructed certain measures they thought objectionable, and he had not a word to say against their conduct. On the Liberal side there had been obstruction also to measures thought objectionable, which in some cases had prevented the passage of measures; while, in other cases, the Government had been able to carry their measures contrary to the judgment of the minority. But, on the whole, legitimate obstruction was right and useful. He was not there, however, to justify what could be called illegitimate obstruction. He could not justify a policy of exasperation. He altogether went with the speech of the trusted Leader of the Irish Party (Mr. Shaw), who was no friend of this policy of exasperation, and he believed that many Members of the Irish Party felt with their Leader that if they wanted to get justice for Ireland they must cultivate the good feeling of the English people—not by attempting to control the House of Commons; if they took any such course it must only lead to exciting the combative feeling of the English, and the result of any such attempt would at once be put down. When they sought to put down obstruction which had been mischievous, let them not forget that deep down they would find the roots of this obstructive policy in the dissatisfaction and distress of the Irish people; and he echoed the wish of the Leader of the Irish Party that the House of Commons might be brought to do something with wisdom and justice, to draw more closely the 1598 bonds of union between the English and Irish people. As he had said, it was his intention to support the Government, and he was anxious to say that because there had been a persistent attempt by writers in certain newspapers to fasten on the Liberal Party a desire to thwart the Government in the passing of this Resolution—it had been suggested that the minority had entered into some kind of league with a certain section of the House with the view of obstructing the Government measures; that was altogether an unjustifiable imputation, and when it was repudiated by the front Bench, then the same newspaper repeated the charge against the Radical Members in the House. Now, speaking for himself, and also for those with whom he usually acted, he could say they did not wish to encourage wilful and persistent obstruction calculated in any way to impair the functions of the House; they were only anxious to preserve the rights of the minority, to guard the liberty every hon. Member enjoyed; and he believed that, without those rights, the House of Commons would fall in public estimation, and gradually lose a large amount of public support. The proposal that there should be an appeal from the Speaker to the House, when the offence contemplated by the Resolution should have been committed, was, in his opinion, a very unfortunate one, which he should like to see withdrawn. But the case was rather different with the action of the Chairman of Ways and Means, where it might be desirable to secure some safeguard. He agreed, and all must agree, in praising the prudence, the impartiality, and the discretion with which the present Chairman of Committees used the power intrusted to him; but he could not close his eyes to the fact that there were other hon. Gentlemen who, when the House was in Committee, might exercise the same important authority, and who might not be equally impartial. He must be understood as in no way making reference to the present Chairman of Ways and Means; but it was possible that the Gentleman holding that Office might be a strong partizan, and in a period of excitement might exercise his power in a manner making it desirable that there should be some check or control. Another point he wished to refer to was the repeated offence; and here he was 1599 in favour of making the penalty more stringent. The "second" offence should be that upon which the penalty should be enforced, and that penalty should be the suspension of the offender for a definite time, and not subject to a further vote. On the second offence there should be a definite term for which the Members should be suspended. Not for a long period. As to the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) that the Member offending should be brought under the penalty of suspension for the remainder of the Session, that, with all respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he (Mr. Rylands) must say that he regarded as a perfectly monstrous proposal. For his own part, he thought it not at all impossible that, after passing the Resolution, the first to come under the penalty would be an English Member. Not an Irish Member; some Member, perhaps, like the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), with an earnest purpose under great feelings of excitement, might support his views against the general opinion of the House, with a recklessness of consequences that might cause him to be named from the Chair. Was it then reasonable to propose that, in consequence, Derby should be disfranchised for a whole Session? In the same way, suppose some Home Rule Member had been named and excluded from service in the House, from both speaking and voting, could it be contemplated to disfranchise some Irish borough or county for the remainder of the Session? No, he rather admired the moderation of the Treasury Bench than the violent declaration of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford. The idea of theclôturehe altogether repudiated. As the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) very truly said, the Liberals had introduced more large legislative changes than Conservatives, and therefore had more interest in keeping down persistent obstruction; but where did those great changes spring from? Was it from the majorities, or from the front Opposition Benches? No, nor yet from the Treasury Bench. It was from the gradually-spreading development of public opinion in favour of questions which at the outset were supported by a very small minority. He (Mr. Rylands) could recollect the early action of the Anti-Corn Law League—of which 1600 association he was a member; how the small band of reformers were confronted by a large majority of both sides, whilst advocating principles that were most unpopular in the House, and having to meet violent opposition. Had there been aclôture,discussion would have been closed and the measure postponed. No doubt, at length the Liberal Party would have taken it up; but theclôturewould certainly have postponed it. All great measures sprang from the opinion of the minority; and he, for one, while prepared to give the Government all the aid in his power to prevent the abuse of the privileges of debate, could not consent to inflict a stab on Liberal progress in this country by borrowing from the Continent those new-fangled ideas for controlling the rights of minorities.
§ MR. PLUNKET
joined with the other hon. Members who had already spoken in congratulating the Government on the very tranquil atmosphere in which their proposals were being discussed, and said he would endeavour to avoid saying anything which would unnecessarily dispel that tranquillity or raise a storm. At the same, time it would be a mistake if, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, they lost sight of the real gravity of the question under discussion, and forgot, in the time of absolute calm, that the time might come again when storms might be raised on the subject of obstruction similar to those they had experienced of late years. He must certainly say that the tranquillity of the evening was wonderful. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) had come into the debate, and had addressed the Government in a manner that must be very satisfactory to them, as nothing had happened during the last six months which would lead them to expect such serenity. He would not refer to the previous proceedings of that right hon. Gentleman further than to say that it was not long ago since he wrote in a well-known magazine strongly condemning the Government in the matter, and so entirely exonerating the conduct of every section of Her Majesty's Opposition, as to say that the Government themselves were the real Obstructionists. Under such circumstances, it must be a matter of great congratulation to the Government that the right hon. Gentleman had that evening assured the House 1601 that nothing could be more satisfactory than the conduct of Ministers, and that the Government deserved the greatest possible credit for the manner in which they had managed the business of the House. He, for one, as an humble supporter of the Government, very cordially thanked him for what he had said. With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw), he had listened to it with great pleasure, and he could not help thinking that if what he had said, and the spirit in which he spoke, could be taken as an example of the spirit of all the Members of the Party which he so prudently and judiciously led, there would be no need of the Resolutions which they were discussing. He could not, however, congratulate the Opposition front Bench on the statement of the hon. Member for Cork that under no circumstances could any combination arise by which the Liberal Party would be able to retain the Home Rule Members within their ranks, for if that was so then the Liberal Party must either relinquish at once all hope of getting into Office, or else must obtain a supremacy at the next Election, so overwhelming as not only to deprive the Government of their present majority, but also to enable them to dispense with at least 60 or 70 Members on their own side of the House. Such self-denying ordinances had been heard of before in the Liberal Party and forgotten, and possibly so it might be again. With regard to the Resolution before the House, he wished to say, as to the first part of it, that he most cordially supported Her Majesty's Government, though as a Member of the Committee which sat to inquire into the subject he should have preferred the adoption of a Resolution in the form to which they, by a majority, had agreed. But when he came to the second part of the Resolution he must say quite frankly that he was entirely opposed to the proposal which was made by the Government. He listened the night before to what was said by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), and though it was not very often he had the good fortune to agree with what that hon. and learned Gentleman said, on the present occasion he was able to adopt almost every word he said on that subject. He thought the punishment proposed to be inflicted 1602 by the Government was one of so light a nature that it would only be felt as a punishment by those Members who were very sensitive on such a matter, and it certainly was not such Members who were likely to offend. He would earnestly urge on the Government to amend that part of the Resolution, and make the penalty a real and serious one for the second offence. But when they came to the final part of the Resolution, that it should be a Standing Order and not merely a Sessional one, he again agreed with the Government that it should be a Standing Order, and he could not conceive any reason for making any alternative proposal. Let them take a practical view of the question. He did not wish to stir up any unpleasant memories on the part of the hon. Members, or to recall scenes of excitement; but at the same time they must not shut their eyes to what it was possible might take place in the future. Were they likely to have more or less obstruction in the next Parliament? The hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) was not present, and as he (Mr. Plunket) had already, on a previous occasion, spoken very strongly with regard to the political action of the hon. Member, on the present occasion he wished to speak as calmly as he possibly could; but no one would deny—it would be vain to deny—that in the Party whose action had called up so much excitement in the House, and had necessitated the introduction of these Resolutions against obstruction, the hon. Member for Meath had always taken a prominent part. The question arose therefore now, whether the Party who supported the hon. Member for Meath would be stronger or weaker in the next Parliament, and that was a question they all ought gravely to consider. He ventured to say that in many Irish constituencies the Members who had supported the hon. Member for Meath would be returned in considerable numbers. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw), when he pooh-poohed that danger, was certainly not expressing the current belief in Ireland. For his own part, he ventured to predict that the number of candidates returned in Ireland at the next Election under the banner of the hon. Member for Meath would mainly be limited by the amount of money which that hon. Member would 1603 succeed in collecting for electioneering purposes in America or elsewhere. He should be glad to be set right if he were wrong, but he understood that the original object of the visit of the hon. Member for Meath to America was to collect money for the promotion of that political movement with which he was connected; and, although the hon. Member for Cork was the nominal Leader of the Home Rule Party in Parliament, the hon. Member for Meath really had the control of that Party in Ireland. Therefore, if a penalty was to be imposed for obstruction at all it ought to be severe. It would be unfortunate, in his opinion, to make any change in the Rules of the House unless the change was real and efficacious. That the Resolution ought to be made a Standing Order, however, he perfectly agreed, and he hoped the Government would adhere to that view.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, that if there was any Member present whose eyes were not quick enough, and whose ears were not long enough to detect the presence of obstruction in the House, it would be useless to waste argument upon him. It was said that obstruction was an evil of old standing. Well, that was no doubt so, but never before the existence of the present Parliament had it assumed the form of a general tilt at all legislation whatsoever. It had usually been directed against one measure only, of which the Obstructives disapproved. In the present House of Commons, however, there were a number of talking machines, who went on with the greatest facility from hour to hour, stopping every kind of Business which happened to be on the Paper. The result was that the House had almost ceased to be a legislative body, and if a check were not put upon them it would soon cease to be even a deliberative body. If everyone of those Members went back to Ireland, into the far West, and brought back with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, it was obvious that the last state of that House would be worse than the first. The Resolutions of the Government certainly did not err on the side of severity. He rather feared that such nets would prove effective only against the smaller fry, and that the big fishes would break through them. It would be a repetition of the old story—Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas.1604 The Resolution, as it stood, seemed to place them in this dilemma, that the House must either vote adversely to the Speaker, or else it might happen that an offence would be committed in the presence of a dozen Members, and the penalty might be inflicted by two or three hundred. Of course, if the Rule worked badly, no one would wish that it should be a Standing Order. But these were matters of detail. The Leader of the House, backed by the opinion of a Select Committee, and recognizing the responsibility of his position, said—"This is what I want; I cannot get on without it;" and that being so, it became the duty of every Member to give the Resolution a cordial and a loyal support. It was intelligible compared with the series of propositions put down by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) than which nothing more involved had been committed to paper since the days of Thucydides. Sooner or later the House would have to re-consider the Rules of its debates. The House had outgrown them; they were made for a different state of things, and also for a different class of Members. The Leader of the Opposition was not quite fairly dealt with in regard to what he said about theclôture.It was an un-English word; but if we called the thing "shut up," or something of that kind, we should take to it better; and sooner or later we must come to something of that kind. Half-a-dozen times a Session Bills were fully debated on the Second Reading, and again the same questions of principle were raised on the Motion to go into Committee, and the arguments that had been thrashed out in the first debate were repeatedad nauseamin the second. If this was debate, all he could say was, we paid a high price for the privilege. In 12 years' experience he had often seen a minority abuse its rights, but only on one occasion had he known a majority to do so. There was the best reason why the majority should not do it, for the consequences would recoil on itself. Every Irish question that was brought forward honestly and in good faith ought to receive the fullest consideration; but it was quite a different thing when speeches were made simply for the sake of speaking, and attempts were made to count the House simply for the purpose of wasting time. This 1605 was not the way in which Irish Members would ever obtain justice for Ireland; nor was it right they should obtain it in this way. The House of Commons would not allow itself to be bullied or worried into doing anything it would not otherwise do. It was one of the most patient Bodies that ever existed; but there was one thing it would not stand, and that no Assembly ought to stand, and that was that any person or body of men should use the Forms of the House simply to bring it into discredit and contempt.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, he intended to give his support to the Resolutions, but he desired to call attention to one point which was worth the consideration of the Government. He had seen a good deal of what was called obstruction; and he attributed much of its success to the existence of the Rule that certain opposed Business could not be begun after half-past 12 A.M. When that Rule was adopted, then obstruction became successful in interfering with the Business of the House. He had always opposed that Rule, because there was Business that might be fairly and properly discussed in a small House of Members after the termination about midnight of the principal Business of the evening. It was only within the last 10 years that it had been considered advisable that this power of stopping Business should be vested, not in the House, but in any Member. The result had been obstruction of the ordinary course of Business. It had been carried so far that the letter "a" had been placed against the Criminal Code Bill, so that the Attorney General was prevented from advancing it a stage, notwithstanding the consideration it had previously received. Frequently pages of Amendments were placed upon the Notice Paper in order to prevent Bills of great importance being discussed; and often hon. Members who had given Notice of Amendments were not in their places when the Amendments were reached. It was impossible to attribute the stop-page of Public Business to what was called obstruction when such facilities for obstruction existed in the Standing Orders. Believing, as he did, that the 12.30 Rule was the cause of much of this interference with business, he regretted that it had become a Standing Order. It would be idle to pass this Resolution 1606 as a temporary measure, and not to leave it to their successors. If they did, after another Session had been wasted, the subject would have to be dealt with again. He could not promise to support the hon. Member for Ennis (Mr. Finigan), unless the Government supported his proposal; but he did not think it would be fair to a constituency that a suspended Member should not be allowed to record his vote. Divisions were sometimes close, and it would be difficult to justify the carrying of any measure by a majority of one while the vote of a suspended Member was excluded.
§ SIR CHARLES FORSTER
would cordially support the proposal of the Government, although he was of opinion it fell short of that stringency which was required if a check were to be given to obstruction. It must be admitted that the Standing Orders of the House gave great facilities for obstruction, and even seemed to invite it. They were framed in former times to protect freedom of debate and to protect minorities. No one valued the right of free discussion more than he did, but it must not be suffered to interfere with the transaction of the Business of the country. Much as he disliked a tyrannical majority, he thought a factious majority worse. One form of obstruction was moving the adjournment of the House when an Answer was given that did not satisfy the Member who asked the Question. English Members were as great offenders in this matter as the Irish. Another Parliamentary scandal was the system of talking out questions on Wednesday. Owing to that practice, the Wednesday, which was reserved for Private Members' Bills, was seldom utilized. He suggested there should be a new Standing Order that at 20 minutes to 6 the question should be put without further debate. If the House could not otherwise protect itself against a factitious minority, he should very reluctantly be driven to the adoption of theclôture.He would not vest theclôturein the hands of a bare majority; but if three-fourths of the House considered that the debate might be closed, it might fairly be so without being charged with unduly restricting discussion. Out-of-doors there was great impatience of the repeated delays of Public Business. Speech was silvern, silence golden, and what they wanted was less talking and 1607 more voting, fewer speeches and more frequent legislation. It would, he believed, be the business of a future House of Commons to revise the Standing Orders, with the double view of expedition of Business, and with full consideration of what was being done.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he coincided almost entirely in the remarks of the hon. Baronet who had just sat down. He had been in dread that if obstruction continued, the House would have to suffer what the nurse of Horace predicted would be his fate—Hunc neque dira venena, neque hosticus auferet ensis,Nec laterum dolor, aut tussis, nec tarda podagra;Garrulus hunc quando consumet cumque; loquaces,Si sapiat, vitet, simul atque adoleverit ætas.That they would, in fact, be talked to death. After the discussions of the previous night, bearing in mind that they had still to discuss in detail various Amendments placed on the Paper, he thought they had now arrived at the time when they might come to a decision on the question immediately before them. That question was whether the proposals of the Government or that of his hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. Sampson Lloyd) should form the staple of their consideration. His hon. Friend objected altogether to the scheme proposed by the Government, and proposed a different form of procedure. He ventured to say a few words on his proposal by anticipation before it was made, and he would not go into those objections again. He thought the general feeling was in favour of adopting the Resolutions of the Government as a basis of proceeding, and he understood that his hon. Friend would be willing to withdraw his Resolution. If that were so, he would say a very few words on some of principal observations which had been made on the proposals of the Government. Of course, when they came to the different Amendments he should consider it his duty to express an opinion on them; but, speaking generally, there were three or four points which had been particularly urged during the discussion. He wished, before touching on them, to express his acknowledgments for the manner in which the question had been discussed. Even among those less disposed to look favourably upon 1608 the Resolutions, there had been a fair tone and an amount of temperate language for which the House might be grateful, and for which the Government were grateful. Throughout the debate there had not occurred anything which was not consistent with the character and dignity of the House of Commons. He did not wonder that a good deal of criticism had taken place on a Resolution which, after all, was of a novel character, and it was quite right that it should be tested in every possible way. He thought, on the whole, they had reason to be satisfied with having adopted a course which was neither too severe nor yet insufficient for its immediate purpose. The immediate purpose of the Resolution, it should be borne in mind, was not to alter the Rules of the House or to affect the mode of doing Business fairly, but to prevent those occasional interruptions which were unseemly and prevented the Rules of the House from having fair play. The question was one which had been carefully considered and repeatedly discussed. It was the subject of examination before the Committee, and on the recommendation of the Committee the Resolution was mainly founded. When the Government came to consider the matter carefully they found it necessary to make some changes in the Resolution adopted by the Committee. The right, hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), in a speech which was generally very friendly to their proceedings, commented on certain points. In the first place, he observed on the words "or otherwise," and he asked what those words meant, and what new offence they covered. The words were inserted in the Resolution, at the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), after "Rules of the House, persistently and wilfully obstructing the Business of the House," by a majority of 9 to 6, the noble Lord leading the Opposition voting with the majority. The intention was to prevent any quibble arising in I the definition of obstruction. Nothing was more difficult than to define obstruction. It must be left, as an hon. Member had stated, to the instinct of the House; and if the Speaker should decide that an hon. Member was guilty of abusing the Rules of the House he would undoubtedly bring himself within the Resolution. Another question was of a 1609 more serious character; when a Member was to be dealt with, should it be by suspending, or only by putting him to silence? The power of suspending was that exercised by Parliamentin old times. It was rather frequently resorted to. In the 17th century there were a good many instances; but in Sir Erskine May's book, after giving a number of instances down to 1692, he said by temporary suspension of a Member the rights of the electors were in a manner infringed, but the House had the unquestionable power of imprisonment, and if the House could imprison the House could unquestionably also suspend. In the Committee of 1878, he put the question to the Speaker, whether he would prefer putting the Member offending to silence only or to suspension, and the answer was, "I should, say suspension during the Sitting of the House." And to the question, "Suspension from taking part in the Business of the House in any form?" Mr. Speaker replied, "Yes, in any form." That, therefore, was the opinion both of Mr. Speaker and of Sir Erskine May. He must say there would be considerable awkwardness in allowing a Member to sit in the House if the power of speaking were taken from him. For they all knew that obstruction was very much a matter of arrangement and prompting; and it might happen that a Member who had been named and put to silence might, without rising to address the House, take a very active part in prompting further measures of obstruction. It would be, therefore, more advisable that the punishment should be suspension from the service of the House. It might even be that the Member would be in such a state of excitement that he would find it difficult to sit in his place without interrupting others. It would be a more reasonable thing if they found a person setting himself deliberately to obstruct Business to make him leave the House altogether. He did not think that it was a question of punishing the constituency. It was just as well that the constituency should have notice that the Member had conducted himself in that particular way, and if the constituency were dissatisfied with his conduct and with the loss of their rights and privileges, they might take measures to communicate with him, and request him for the future so to conduct himself that he 1610 might be of use to them in that House. As to another point which had received a good deal of consideration, it was a most difficult question to determine in what form the act of suspension should take place. The first impression, no doubt, was that it would be better it should be by the act of the Speaker or the Chairman. It was said that the Speaker was the guardian of their Rules, and when he saw that a Member had so far misconducted himself that he was obliged to call him to Order, name him, and bring him within the reach of the new Rule, that ought to be done by the authority of Mr. Speaker himself, and there should be no reference to the House to support the authority of the Chair. The noble Lord put it in this way—"What was the House called upon for? Was it to support the authority of the Speaker, or to neutralize or negative the Speaker's authority? In the first case it was unnecessary, and in the second mischievous." If the House had nothing to do but to consider the action of Mr. Speaker, there would be a good deal of force in these arguments. In the evidence taken in 1878, the Speaker expressed his preference for a decision taken by the Chair; at the same time he saw no objection to a vote being taken, provided it was taken without amendment or debate. But they must remember they had to deal, not only with the case of Mr. Speaker, but with a much more difficult case—that of the Chairman of Ways and Means. In speaking of the Chairman of Ways and Means, he spoke with the most perfect and entire respect for the hon. Gentleman who occupied that distinguished position, and he was sure that no one would be elected to the position of Chairman of Ways and Means in whose impartiality the House would not have confidence. But, of course, the position of "the official Chairman," as the right hon. Member for Greenwich called him, was very different from that of Mr. Speaker, because when the House was not in Committee he was accustomed to take his seat on the benches of the House, and to bear a part in the debates; and he might occasionally have to exercise his functions in keeping Order in the case of a Gentleman who might be reckoned as a political opponent. That was not the case with Mr. Speaker, who was so entirely removed from their Party struggles, that no question could be raised 1611 as to his impartiality. And then they had to bear in mind that they had to consider the position not only of the official Chairman of Ways and Means, but of some other Gentlemen, who, in the absence of the Chairman, and without his experience, might from time to time be asked to take the Chair. The feeling which prompted the hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes) in giving his evidence before the Committee of 1878 was one which they ought to respect. The hon. Member said on that occasion—The power of dealing with any offence of this description appears to me to reside in the House, or in the other case in the Committee rather than in the Chair. I should prefer to see any punitive or corrective power placed in the hands of the Committee or the House, as the case may he, rather than in those of the Chair.That was an opinion which the hon. Member for Chester still entertained. Well, if that was the case with regard to the Chairman in Committee, it became very difficult to adopt a different course with respect to Mr. Speaker. There could be no doubt that, after the Speaker had taken the solemn decision involved in naming a Member, the House would support his ruling. There was no doubt of that. But a considerable amount of odium would be taken off the Chair by the prompt recognition on the part of the House of the justice of the decision. It was easy to imagine what might happen in such and such circumstances. He did not believe that on a case of obstruction arising, the Speaker would be left without a considerable number of Members in the House. It would be the duty of those responsible for for the conduct of Business to see that there was a proper number present to support Mr. Speaker in any action he might think necessary. Though holes might be picked in any scheme which might be laid before the House, he thought it would be better for them to accept the main lines of the Government scheme, even though they thought it desirable that some Amendments in detail should be moved. One of the great difficulties under which they laboured in dealing with these cases of obstruction arose from a sort of confusion in the minds of some Gentlemen of high authority from the novelty of the case and uncertainty as to the precedents to be applied. Something occurred suddenly which seemed to require action 1612 which should be taken promptly. A discussion ensued, and a Member was in doubt as to the precedents he could lay his hands on. Perhaps some distinguished Member of the front Opposition Bench rushed out and came back with a volume ofHatsell's Precedents,and perhaps found in those precedents some difficulty as to the course which should be pursued. Then there would be a failure of justice, and the House would be in a distinctly worse position for the hasty and ill-considered step which had been taken. There were Gentlemen—it was only human nature—who, while they disliked disorderly proceedings, would not be sorry to see their opponents take a wrong step. It was necessary, therefore, that they should make some arrangements by which they might have some promptitude and certainty. He was told that the Resolution was too mild and would probably be futile, and that the Order of 1877 was a futile Order. He did not recognize the truth of that saying. It was said nobody was suspended under that Order except Mr. Whalley, who was not particularly in contemplation when the Order was made. It did not follow, because an Order was not often acted upon, that it was, therefore, inefficacious. The effect of that was to prevent for the remainder of that Session any breach of Order of the kind which had been aimed at. So a solemn declaration by the House that it considered these cases of obstruction to be serious matters, and that it had provided the machinery for dealing with them, would go a long way indeed in strengthening the hands of the Speaker and the Chairman, and in impressing on hon. Members themselves the necessity of conforming their conduct to the Rules of the House. He agreed, too, with his noble Friend the Postmaster General, that Rules which were not too stringent were far more likely to be observed and made use of than Rules which were somewhat severe. He abstained from going into the question of the amount of punishment, or whether the second or the third offence should be taken as the occasion for a more lengthened suspension. These were details which could be discussed at the proper time. He thought that if they did not make the Resolution a Standing Order, they would not be doing their duty. They had much bitter experience of this particular form of ob- 1613 struction, and they thought they had devised a probable method of stopping it. They had no right to hand down an evil which had grown up under themselves without making an earnest attempt to check it. He believed the proceedings of the new Parliament would be very greatly facilitated if they were armed with what, after the most careful consideration, was believed to be the best remedy against obstruction. He earnestly trusted, therefore, that if the Rule were adopted, the House would not question the propriety of making it a permanent and Standing Order. In conclusion, he expressed a hope that the House would bear in mind the importance of getting on as fast as they could, and of keeping as close to the actual business of the Resolutions as was consistent with freedom of debate.
§ MR. SAMPSON LLOYD
thought it would accord with the feeling of the House, if he asked leave to withdraw his Amendment. ["No!"]
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
remarked that, after what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he felt that if he persevered with the Amendment of which he had given Notice he should place himself in such hostility to the Resolutions that he should be imperilling what he wished to see—namely, their safe passage through the House. Still, if anyone else thought fit to move his Amendment, he should give his vote in favour of it. He regretted, indeed, the course which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken, in first asking the House to consider the general spirit of his Resolutions before dealing with the various Amendments, and afterwards, in the speech to which they had just listened, entering himself into the details of all those Amendments. That which he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) proposed involved a great Constitutional principle, and he should have been glad to have had it fairly and fully discussed. What did they want to do? To put an end to obstruction. Now, the obstruction complained of was caused by undue prolixity of speech, or repetition of speeches, with the evident intention of wearying the House and delaying its Business, and this they would at once stop if they decided to deprive the offending Member of the privilege of addressing the House. If they proceeded further they went beyond the 1614 actual remedy they required, and might be accused out-of-doors of being actuated by vindictive feeling against an individual, instead of only a desire to remove an obstacle to the progress of Business. But there was a much graver question behind. When they suspended a Member from speaking, it was the Member they punished; but when they deprived him of his vote, they punished his constituency. It was no violent stretch of imagination to suppose that the victim of this Resolution might be an Irish Member. The names of the hon. Members for Meath, Cavan, and Mayo had been mentioned in the debate. Suppose that one of these Members was suspended during the discussion of an Irish question. The suspension might be right enough as regarded the speech; but what reason was there that an important Irish constituency should be prevented from expressing its opinion upon a question in which it was interested by the vote of its Representative? The constituency had committed no crime against the House; it had no power to get rid of its Member, even if it desired to do so, before a General Election, and it was unjust to deprive it of the right given to it by the Constitution. There was also another important consideration. Many hon. Members whom he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) was addressing had only experience of the Parliament of 1874, or of that of 1868, in one of which a Liberal and in the other a Tory Government had a large majority. But he had sat in Parliaments in which Parties were much more evenly balanced, and it was not so long ago that the fate of a Ministry had been decided by one vote. Now, he was not one of those who abused his political opponents, and he said that, from whatever political Party the Government was constructed, they were likely to be men of high character and honour. But in what a position would such men be placed by this Resolution in times of evenly-balanced Parties and political excitement. They might fear to apply it, lest they should be accused of an attempt to get rid of a political opponent at a critical moment, or, thinking it their duty to apply it, they might be opposed on such grounds, and a most undesirable Party conflict would follow. As the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) had observed, the severity of the punishment would defeat 1615 its own object, and the Resolution would very likely remain a dead letter in consequence. Still, the desirability of passing these Resolutions was beyond everything else, and he was not prepared to move any Amendment. He cordially supported the proposal of the Government to make the Resolution a Standing Order, considering that the present House of Commons had had full experience of obstruction, and ought not to leave the burden of providing against it to their less experienced successors.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, that as this debate had proceeded it had undergone a great change, inasmuch as while at first many hon. Members had expressed an intention to oppose the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman, but few had in the course of the discussion upon them gone further than to criticize their details. All opposition seemed to be at an end. That change in the nature of the debate well illustrated the position in which the Home Rule Members were placed. Since he first entered that House, he had been witness of no attempt which had been so utterly futile as that which had been made by the Home Rule Party to oppose these Resolutions. The support which these Resolutions had received from the Liberal Party was cordial and unanimous, and he never recollected hearing such an enthusiastic cheer as that which greeted the right hon. Gentleman when he announced his intention of adopting the course he had done.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
, resuming his observations, said, it was also evident there was considerable feeling out-of-doors, and that the proposals of the Government were strongly backed up, and he was satisfied that had the right hon. Gentleman thought it wise and right to propose much more stringent measures than he had done, he would only have excited greater enthusiasm among all Parties in his favour, and would probably have had no difficulty in passing them. Without stopping to inquire into the cause of the great unanimity of opinion on the subject, he wished to enter his protest against the objects and intentions conveyed by these 1616 Resolutions. He was aware that they were about to be carried, and that it would be futile for him to propose anything in their stead. He, however, as a Member of the minority on this question, had a right to vote against them, and to set forth with as little bitterness as possible his view of their fault and vice. In his opinion, these Resolutions were calculated to leave the problem they were intending to deal with still unsolved, and would not be effectual in putting down obstruction in its Protean forms. In saying that, he did not speak in the spirit of a threat or with any desire that difficulties should be thrown in the way of the Government by the House. In searching out the origin of obstruction, he had been led to consider why the proceedings of the Home Rule Party had assumed an aspect so disagreeable to the House as to lead to the introduction of these Resolutions. He (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) had taken part in the proceedings of the Home Rule Party since 1874, and there was no doubt that the tendency to adopt those measures which had aroused the indignation of the right hon. Gentleman and of so many hon. Members had been brought about by the manner in which Irish proposals had been treated by the Government and by the House. He spoke not now of the Home Rule proposals, but of proposals for the amendment of particular laws which had been laid before the House with the assent of the vast majority of the Irish people; and the fate of those proposals had been uniformly unfortunate. It was true that those proposals had received a full and fair hearing by that House; but that fact had merely aggravated the disappointment and the exasperation of Irishmen with regard to the questions in which they were so deeply interested. Thus the question of the Land was brought forward, but the Land Laws stood at the same point as after the passing of the Land Act of 1870; and there was profound disappointment in Ireland at their remaining in that state. The Home Rule Members and the people of Ireland believed that a great deal of the misfortunes which now afflicted that country would not have arisen had there been timely alteration of the Land Laws. The Government was represented in Ireland by a right hon. Gentleman who regarded all proposals on 1617 that subject, such as those suggested by the Home Rule Members, and which were desired by the large body of the Irish people, as a progress in the direction of Communism. The important Act in reference to Intermediate Education in Ireland was only obtained after a delay of three or four years, and considerable pressure from the active Irish Party in the House; and the Irish University question was only settled after a long series of debates, which would doubtless be termed obstructive, on the Estimates for the Queen's University. This was the fate of a variety of other Irish questions of very great interest, on which the majority of the Irish people felt very deeply and with great unanimity. His late Leader and Colleague (Mr. Butt) brought forward measures repeatedly, and won sympathy on all sides by his eloquence and geniality. But for his hard work in connection with those questions, he would have been alive to-day; but after four years' labour on the principles adopted by Mr. Butt, nothing had been done. Everything ability and earnestness could do on the Land, Education, Franchise, and Grand Jury questions was tried by Mr. Butt, and found of no avail. That being so, the Irish Members had discussed among themselves the advisability of using another leverage in the transaction of Irish affairs, namely—by making their weight felt in English and Imperial matters. They thought that their Predecessors had too much confidence in themselves in speaking on Irish affairs, and that if they had asserted a strong and independent position on other questions, they might have effected something more of a practical nature in the Business of their own country. The idea lay dormant while Mr. Butt brought his measures before the House, but finally it entered the heads of some Home Rule Members to try what the new leverage could do. The view he (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) had always taken of that course was that as long as Irish Members were discussing English or Imperial affairs to move the judgment of the House upon them, they were not only literally within their rights, but that they were acting according to the spirit of the Constitution. He was also of opinion that when an hon. Member stood up in the House for the mere purpose of permanently occupying its time, 1618 from that moment he advanced into what deserved to be called "obstruction." In saying that, he did not wish to be understood as saying that in no circumstances was deliberate obstruction unjustifiable, because almost all the proposals they had made in the interest of their country had been rejected. What struck him about obstruction pure and simple was that it would be an extremely imprudent thing for a small minority to make use of obstruction, because, while an active interference by Irish Members in English and Imperial affairs was a strong lever to influence the conduct of the House and the Government, the weapon would surely be broken if it were overstrained. He therefore thought that in order to retain the power of acting vigorously on English and Imperial subjects, that weapon should be used cautiously. The cure that he would suggest for obstruction was that the House should deal in a fairer and more adequate manner with Irish questions. He was sure that if the Irish demands for reform had even been partially considered, with a view to their being dealt with in a business-like way, during the last three or four years, there would have been no obstruction. He could speak as to this from personal knowledge, for he had known cases in which a fair hearing on the part of the Government had led to an immediate cessation of obstruction. The hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) had told him that if the Government would bring forward the Intermediate Education Bill, and do their best to pass it, and state their intention to deal at a future time with the University question, he would put no difficulties in their way for the rest of the Session. The Government did bring in the Education Bill; and though they made no promise as to the University question, there was no sign of obstruction during the remainder of the Session. Some hon. Gentlemen thought that the Resolutions would be successful; others were of opinion that they were too weak. For his part, he thought they would have no effect whatever in checking an active policy on the part of the Irish Members. The only danger which Irish Members were likely to incur was, that if they followed the example and the precedent set by hon. Members on the other side in former years—if they became real Obstructionists—indignation 1619 would no doubt be raised against them, and their measures would be defeated; but if they pursued an active policy with regard to English and Imperial affairs, he believed that, avoiding obstruction, and using that leverage for the furtherance of Irish measures, they could bring such an influence to bear on the counsels of that House, and would acquire such a power as would no doubt carry their point on many subjects as to which they now had little hope of success, and be more powerful in having adopted reforms which they had long advocated outside the question of Home Rule. There was one prospect arising out of the passing of these Resolutions which, he confessed, he viewed with some pleasure, and that was that they would become a united Party. Should that occur, he believed that a united Irish Party, acting with discrimination in English and Imperial affairs in that House, would produce such a spirit of readiness on the part of hon. Gentlemen, both Whig and Tory, according to which Government might be in power, to deal with Irish affairs as would make those affairs much less a burden than they now were to those who had to administer the government of the country.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, he would confine the few observations he had to make to a single point—namely, the suspension of a Member. That was a very important subject, and a much more serious one than the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to think. It was not merely a question of punishing a Member, but a great Constitutional question, arising out of the Common Law of this country, was involved. He was prepared to state that there was no precedent for such suspension, although there had, he admitted, been suspension of individual Members in evil days—during the reign of Charles I. and Charles II.—a time it was very unsafe to draw precedents from. He would mention one or two instances. On the 6th of November, 1641, Sir Norton knatchbull was suspended from his privileges as a Member during the pleasure of the House. Again, Mr. Fry was suspended from, sitting in the House until he gave satisfaction to the House. On the 3rd of July, 1661, Mr. Long was suspended for not having received the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper and until he communicated. In 1620 April, 1670, Sir John Prettyman was suspended until he produced Robert Holmes, who claimed privileges as his son; and in March, 1692, Mr. Carringford was suspended from the exercise of his privileges until he should attend in his place—a sentence which might be regarded as somewhat of an Irish bull, for he could not exercise the privileges from which he was suspended until he attended in his place. But all these were arbitrary acts, and were totally inapplicable and unsuited to the present day. This, too, he could assert—that for 200 years there was no precedent to be found of a Member being suspended from his privileges as a Member of that House. He might be told that the imprisonment of a Member involved his suspension; but that he denied, for "suspension" meant an actual, and not a consequential, deprivation of a privilege. Then, again, if they deprived a Member of the opportunity of discharging the duty of voting in that House, they would really abrogate for the time being the franchises vested in the constituency, franchises conferred by Common Law or Statute, and which could only be taken away by an Act of the Legislature. He would remind the House, too, that it was a fundamental principle of Common Law that every Member of that House represented not only his own constituency, but all the Commons of England and Scotland. If he wished to stand for any borough or constituency, he should first vacate his seat, and for the reason he had just stated. A Member was not a delegate sent up by a particular constituency to do what they thought right, but a Member for the whole Commons of the Realm, and was bound to take a course which was beneficial to the Commons of the whole United Kingdom. A Member of that House represented not only his own constituency, but also the Commons of the Realm, and the right to vote was vested in him not only by the Common Law, but also by Statute; and they could not repeal Common Law and Statute Law by a mere Resolution of the House, or by anything short of an Act of Parliament. Therefore, it was utterly illegal and unconstitutional to deprive a Member of his vote in the way proposed, either for a time or altogether. It was a proposal which could not be justified by precedent; it might be sup- 1621 ported by instances not worth the name of precedents, taken from the evil times of our history, but it was undoubtedly illegal and unconstitutional. It was not a question of punishing a Member or a constituency, but it was a question of attempting to alter the law of the land by a Resolution of the House. It was quite sufficient if a Member was silenced, and not allowed to speak. It was by speaking he would have been guilty of obstruction, and it was quite enough to deprive him of the power he had abused. But it was only by an Act of Parliament that the law of the land could be altered.
§ MR. O'CLERY
, after expressing his surprise that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have attempted to close the debate, said, that he felt bound to notice the extreme alacrity with which the Members of the Liberal Party had responded to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman. They found both that on the preceding night, and on the present occasion, the occupants of the front Opposition Bench and hon. Members above the Gangway generally vied with each other how they could best show their readiness to support the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Members sitting below the Gangway were also represented as entertaining a similar disposition. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), who seemed to arrogate to himself the position of Representative of the English Radicals in that House, wished to convey that the Radicals as a Party supported the Resolutions. He (Mr. O'Clery) did not know whether it was by reason of the result of the elections of Liverpool and Southwark that the Liberals were manifesting a tendency to separate themselves from the Irish Members; but he hoped his countrymen would note the fact that Liberals and Radicals were equally as ready as Conservatives to curtail the privileges that had been used by a certain section of Members of the House. He said a certain section, because he was bound to say these Resolutions were mainly directed against the Representatives of the Irish nation. They had been told by the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), in the course of a very able speech, of the obstruction which was practised in 1870 by Conservative Members, who were then in a minority; and, no doubt, the Liberal ma- 1622 jority of that time uttered many bitter complaints; but no one dreamt then of putting in force a Draconian Code such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposed to the House. And why was that? Because the obstructives in that case were Englishmen, who were naturally jealous of their individual rights in that House. But it became quite a different matter when Irishmen attempted to carry out the ordinary freedom of debate enjoyed by English Members. Then, indeed, a cry of obstruction was immediately raised. He would remind the House that Irish Representatives did not always represent constituencies in the sense in which English Members represented counties and boroughs. The former represented a nation whose Parliament had been suppressed, and a Government which had been taken away, and in putting forward this Code the House endeavoured to stifle as much as possible the voice of that nation. It was not the first time that the House had, in various ways, endeavoured to curtail the power of the Irish Members. He believed that there had not been a single measure submitted to the House by the majority of the Irish Representatives since the General Election of 1874 which had not been, directly or indirectly, obstructed. A Motion with reference to the development of the Irish fisheries had been carried, but nothing had been done by the Government to give effect to it. How often had the late Mr. Butt failed to obtain due consideration for measures he introduced? How often, on "Irish Wednesdays," had English Members declined to listen to the debate, and then voted in the majority against the Irish Members? This was obstruction in its grossest form. Over and over again the question of the assimilation of the franchises had been brought before the House, and on one occasion the Irish Bill was only lost by six votes; but care was taken, by the issue of a strong Whip, that it should not occur again. To-night the question of Irish absenteeism had been shunted, in order that the House might resume the discussion of this Resolution, which was of no importance to the Irish people compared with the expenditure of absentee landlords. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer was bound to carry his Resolution, because the Press, which seemed to rule the country, taunted him with want of back- 1623 bone and with being unstable in his Leadership. In his heart, no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman saw the justice of the case of the Irish Members; and as a freedom-loving Englishman, he could not, until overborne by the Press, come forward with this Draconian Code to stifle the freedom of debate. Three years ago he (Mr. O'Clery) expressed an opinion that the highest duty of the Irish Members, under the circumstances in which they found themselves, was to withdraw from the House. He cited the case of the Hungarian Representatives in the Austrian Reichsrath, who withdrew from the House, with the result of hastening, instead of retarding, the restoration of the Hungarian Constitution. In that way they expedited the solution of the difficulties which formerly existed between Austria and Hungary. He hoped the attention of the Irish people would be called to the question of the withdrawal of the Irish Members from that House, and that they would sanction it. He knew that a deliberate attempt had been made to arouse a feeling of English prejudice against Ireland, and he thought that was a very dangerous thing indeed, for the Irish people of the present day would not allow their national aspirations to be stifled in the manner which was being attempted. He had no doubt that the Resolutions were mainly directed to prevent the feeling of dissatisfaction which the arbitrary conduct of the Majority of the House would create; but the Liberals and the Radicals who sat in that House ought not to have allowed themselves to fall into the trap set for them. With regard to the question of withdrawal, he was bound to say that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer persevered with his Resolutions, and enforced them to the letter, and continued to manifest the tendency which was now shown on the opposite side of the House, to fetter the expression of Irish opinion in that House, he believed it would be the duty of Ireland to recall her Representatives from an Assembly in which they practically had no voice. He opposed the Resolutionsin toto,and considered they were aimed directly at Irish Members.
said, he looked on the situation as a very serious one, and he looked forward with alarm to the consequences which he thought must result from the proposed changes in the 1624 Rules of the House. Nothing in the world was more certain than that these Resolutions were framed in anticipation of action which might be taken by Irish Members. He believed they had been framed with a view to what might occur in the new Parliament. The Government, for reasons which they could not call on them to divulge, but the nature of which they could easily conjecture, had come to the conclusion that it would be less difficult to carry these Resolutions now than when the constitution of Parliament had been re-invigorated by the admixture of new blood. The Resolutions were intended to meet the action of the Irish constituencies at the approaching General Election. The Government did not doubt that difficulties, which the Resolutions were intended to meet, would exist in a more formidable shape in the new Parliament, and this would give rise to unpleasantness after the new Rule had been in operation for some time. He charged the Government with having an electioneering object in view in proposing at the present time to deal with obstruction in the way suggested. They were doing their best to rouse the fiercest passions of the people of England and Scotland, and to turn them in the direction most likely to serve the political necessities of the Tory Party. The Resolutions were the offspring of a long-deliberated, carefully-matured plan for the execution of which they thought this the most opportune time; they were the machinery designed to enable a majority of that House to subject to the dignity of enforced silence and the deprivation of legislative functions, the Representatives of Ireland who should have the temerity of pressing with importunate earnestness, that the wishes, opinions, and demands of the Irish people should receive legislative sanction. He must complain of the allegation on the part of certain newspapers against hon. Members of the House, because of the course they had adopted in moving and supporting the Amendment to the Address to Her Majesty replying to the Most Gracious Speech from the Throne. He held that not only was it right, but it was their duty, to criticize the conduct of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the question of relief to the Irish poor. He could make that statement with a clear con- 1625 science, because he had not taken any part in that debate, that the claims, wishes, and demands of the Irish people should receive legislative sanction. The Government intended to deal with obstruction without being able to define what obstruction really was, and in the absence of that definition the effect of the Resolution must depend on the temper of the Speaker and the temper of the House. If the Speaker should happen to be—what he had been often before, and might be again—a man of violent temper, of unsound judgment, of unblushing partizanship, and with strong anti-Irish prejudices, it was impossible to see a limit to the confusion, the disorder, the tumult in and out of Parliament to which these Resolutions must give rise. If the Speaker directed the attention of the House to an hon. Member whose conduct he (the O'Donoghue) would describe by the term obstruction, the House must almost of necessity suspend that Member from the Business of the House. For the House not to do so would be equivalent to a Vote on Censure on the Speaker, and would expose him to ridicule and inevitably lower his authority. Even if they were ensured that all Speakers would be endowed with all the high qualities, which every Member of the House gladly recognized in the present occupant of that Chair, a hard strain would be put upon the Speaker to resist the feeling of the House, if it were in a frame of mind for vindicating the supremacy of the House over a garrulous and querulous minority for vindicating the right of England, endeavouring to regulate everything for Irishmen according to English notions of right and wrong, or English whims and prejudices. If they could depend on the character of future Speakers, and on their being always strong and upright men, and also on the calmness and good temper of the House at any time when a question of obstruction was to be considered, then they might conclude that these Resolutions would be a dead letter. But when they could not count upon either of these things, then the passing of these Resolutions must imperil the rights of the Irish Members, make their position precarious, and leave them to take their chance between the caprice of a Speaker and the caprice of the House. What was called obstruction in its permanent and formid- 1626 able shape was of modern creation. No doubt Parliamentary history furnished instances of Members who had from time to time resisted the opinion of the House and endeavoured to press their own peculiar views upon it. The most memorable instance he could recall was that of right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) when opposing the Divorce Bill. He moved countless Amendments, made innumerable speeches; for days and weeks he held the House captive and enthralled by the charms of his genius, and his many assailants at bay by the power of his giant intellect. But the right hon. Gentleman had many pigmy imitators, such as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General. But all imitators alike, whether giant or pigmy, felt that if they carried resistance beyond a certain point, they would have made themselves ridiculous, for the action of these right hon. and hon. Gentlemen had been dictated by reasons of a self-sufficient character. It was begun as an objection to the particular measure, and their opposition ceased when it was evident that to persevere further was useless and absurd. More recently the hon. Members for Meath (Mr. Parnell), Cavan (Mr. Biggar), Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), and others had taken a course not very satisfactory to the House. Would anyone say that these hon. Members had been acting merely as individuals, and that in what they where saying and doing they were merely expressing their own opinions? No one would venture to say so, because it would not be true. He believed that his hon. Friends and those who acted with them, commanded the absolute approval of their constituents, and had acquired the universal confidence of their country. His hon. Friends stood behind an impregnable barrier—the duty they owed their country, and that duty must be fulfilled, no matter how disagreeable it might be for English Members to see that they could not override and spurn the demands of the Irish people. The difficulty they had got into had arisen from compelling the Parliament of Ireland to sit there, and they were now endeavouring to wriggle out of the difficulty by branding those who faithfully discharged their duties to their 1627 constituents as being guilty of a breach of the usages of Parliament. Obstruction, as he had said, was of modern creation. It did not exist in O'Connell's time, nor at any time when a considerable majority of Irish Members were the mere nominees of two political classes. Obstruction had been brought forward by the free Irish constituencies, and was the expression of the determination of the people, who never had and never could recognize the jurisdiction of the present Parliament. Hon. Members might call that conduct what they pleased and describe it as they would; but the world would regard it as it really was—the manifestation of the resolve of the Irish people to assert the distinct nationality of their country, and her title to legislative independence. He would certainly do all he could to oppose these Resolutions, which he believed to have been designed to hamper and strangle the efforts of those Irish Members who came to that House prepared to do their duty.
§ MR. FINIGAN
said, that the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) had taken the trouble to misstate facts in connection with his (Mr. Finigan's) illustrious Friend the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell). The illustrious and hon. Member for Meath had gone out on a mission of charity which ought to have been discharged by that House. Had it not been for the efforts of the illustrious Member for Meath, the people of Ireland would have been craving aid from a Government which never showed the slightest symptom of charity towards the Irish people. He deniedin totothe base statements of the hon. and learned Member that the illustrious Member for Meath was engaged in collecting funds for an electoral campaign in Ireland. The funds in question were collected for the purposes of the Land League, and not for electoral purposes. When the time came for collecting a fund for those purposes, if it ever did, the money required would be forthcoming, without having to make an appeal to the English or any other nation. With regard to the Resolution before the House, he understood that when a Member was named by the Speaker as an Obstructionist the Division Bell would be rung, and Gentlemen who had not heard a word of the debate would be whipped into the House to 1628 vote upon a question which they, necessarily, could know nothing about. He would oppose any such proposal. But if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would undertake that only those within the House at the time should vote on the alleged obstructionist conduct he would withdraw his Amendment. He was not anxious to carry on any obstruction in that House, nor did he think any of his Colleagues were. [Laughter.] He said that in all sincerity, for the obstructive tactics of the past had been forced upon them by the comedy of legislation which had been played in that House by the Government with regard to Ireland. But when the next Election should return 20 or 30 supporters of the hon. Member for Meath, the Tory Party would not always have a brutal majority. [Cries of"Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he was sure the hon. Member himself must see that such an expression was most irregular, and should be withdrawn.
§ MR. FINIGAN
said, he would at once, with pleasure, withdraw the expression, and substitute the word "sweeping." What he meant to say was that Parties would be more equally balanced in the next Parliament, and that there would be no necessity to practise what was now called obstruction. He hoped, however, that in the next Parliament, when the Liberals changed sides, they would not see obstructive tactics practised by the Lowthers', the Bentincks', and the Cecil Raikes'. His object in addressing the House was chiefly to express the wish that the Resolutions would be agreed to, not as a Standing Order, but as a Sessional Order. The hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Wexford (Sir George Bowyer) had pointed out that the House was not able constitutionally to suspend a Member from his service in the House. He (Mr. Finigan) trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would seriously consider that matter, and would not hurry this measure through the House as so many other measures had been hurried through it. He should oppose any such injustice as the House was now endeavouring to force upon the Irish Members.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
asked why no such measure as this was brought forward in 1877, when so much was said about British interests being damaged 1629 by five, or six, or seven hon. Gentlemen? He had never been an advocate of obstruction, and had severed himself from that section of the Irish Members on the question; but he wished it to be understood that when matters of this important description arose, he could not always refrain from giving his vote. The question of obstruction, so called, arose several Sessions ago, and attempts were then made to deal with it, without effect—that was to say, so far as the view of the Government was concerned. He therefore protested against the Government coming down now, at the end of the existence of the Parliament, and imposing these regulations, merely to make an electioneering cry out of them. The Government brought forward the Resolutions now because they would, within a short time, have to appeal to the country. By bringing forward this question on the eve of a General Election, they were preventing the House from considering great measures required for placing England in an eminent position in the eyes of foreign nations, and all for the sake of going to the country with a cry against the Home Rulers. He protested against the action of the Government, and denied their right to sit upon them by new arrangements. While admitting that any hon. Member who interfered with the Public Business of the country ought to be prevented from doing so, he was yet of opinion that for those who were prepared to oppose obstruction, the field was the place. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh; but he believed those who took up obstruction were not the fellows to take up the position to which he alluded. While he admitted that, he protested against the action of the Government. He was prepared to stand by the old lines of the Constitution. He was not there to stand up for obstruction; but this question was not one to be dealt with by an expiring Parliament. As an electioneering cry it was unworthy of a Conservative Government, and he trusted the country would not be misled by the humbugging Resolutions which had been proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, that he felt conscious of a difficulty in addressing the House after a long debate; but on the general principles which bore upon the question before the House 1630 he felt that there was still a great deal to be said which had not been said either on that night or the night before. He was constrained to say that he was rather alarmed by the singular unanimity which prevailed in the House. It did not appear to be consistent with their duties or independence as Members of that House. There had been a singular unwillingness to look at the real facts of the situation. But he thought that as they were compelled to deal with the facts of the ease, they must pay attention to them to qualify them to deal with the question. They were brought face to face with a remarkable phenomenon. There had come into that House certain Members who disdained its traditions, who had no respect for its unwritten laws, who did not observe the morality which had hitherto regulated the conduct of its Members, and who were not amenable to the external influence of electoral opinion. When a man, in former years, had contravened the common sense of the House he very soon got conscious of what he had done, and withdrew from that line of action. But he would bring before them, as the first fact of the existing situation, that there were men among them upon whom no such influence produced any effect, men who did not care a straw about being reprobated by the mass of the House. There was another fact to be remembered. If a man acted in the way he had described there was another power he had to meet—the power of his constituency. If a man offended in that way his constituency would not return him again to Parliament. But they knew that that was not always the fact now. They had not only Members who disregarded the traditions of the House, but constituencies that approved of this contempt on the part of their Representatives. How did they propose to deal with such Members? They proposed to inflict a penalty which would only make them more popular with their constituencies, and which offered them the opportunity of obtaining a cheap sort of martyrdom. It was thought by these Resolutions to cure the evil, without understanding the weakness of the method employed. They had to do with men who disdained the traditions of the House; they had to deal with constituencies which did not blame the conduct of such men. Of this they had 1631 had an instructive example in the history of the last Session. It was a pity the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) was not present; the discussions on the Resolutions would have possessed much more vitality if he had been there. In his absence, reference might be permitted to an historic incident. That hon. Gentleman had told them, the very last night they had gone into Committee on the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill last Session, that he was obliged to leave them, inasmuch as he was going to assist in the election at Ennis. The hon. Gentleman went to Ennis and brought back the present Member (Mr. Finigan) as the prize for his conduct on the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill. He would direct the attention of the House to a third point. What, after all, was obstruction? They had been talking for two nights, and he had not yet heard a single Member attempt to define it. It was only a slip-shod answer to say that everybody knew what it was. For a single Member to talk for two nights—was that obstruction? There were a great many slip-shod answers to that question, covering much confusion of thought. The hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) had, in his effective speech, quoted cases of repeated Divisions as instances of obstruction. The hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) had referred to other such cases. He (Mr. Courtney) did not regard many speeches and repeated Divisions as necessarily constituting obstruction, and there were many things which had been called obstruction which were not obstruction at all. It would be dangerous to attempt to define it; but he would say that it did not consist in making many or long speeches, and in taking many Divisions; but it consisted in doing any one of these things, not for the purpose of informing the mind of the House or bringing it to consider the question at issue, or of informing the mind of the country, but for the purpose of preventing the House from dealing with the question before it—simply and solely doing so for the purpose of preventing the Business of the House being done. The hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Sampson Lloyd), in his speech on the previous evening, referred to the action of hon. Members on the Irish Church Bill and on the South Africa Bill. The hon. Member seemed to be 1632 of opinion that the conduct of hon. Members who opposed the Irish Church Bill did not amount to obstruction, but that in the case of the South Africa Bill there was obstruction, pure and transparent. Well, he (Mr. Courtney) was of exactly the contrary opinion. Why? Because the Irish Church Bill was introduced after its principle had been raised in a previous Parliament, and a General Election had been taken on the issue involved in the question with which it dealt, and because a Parliament had been elected with a view to the Disestablishment of the Irish Church. The principles of the Bill having been thus accepted, there remained nothing to do but to discuss its details; and to go on opposing the Bill simply to prevent its passing was unmistakeable obstruction. If anyone endeavoured to stop a thing only because he did not like it, he was obstructing. But in the case of the South Africa Bill, how totally different was the situation; for when the Bill came before the House there were not 10 Members who knew anything about it, and the country was absolutely ignorant on the subject. Under such circumstances, it was the business of honest men to stir up public opinion both in the House and out of it. He held, therefore, that when the South Africa Bill was first brought in, it was not obstructed, whatever obstruction might have occurred afterwards. In what did obstruction lie? Not, as he had said, in the making of many speeches, nor in the making of speeches of considerable length, but in the motive with which they were made. When trying to ascertain whether obstruction was taking place, they should consider whether a man was endeavouring to stop Business to give expression to his own self-will and obstinacy, or trying really to improve the character of the action of the House by making it more deliberate or more in consonance with the opinion of the country. The House would see how judicial and deliberative should be the temper of the tribunal appointed to determine questions of obstruction. In dealing with this question of obstruction, it had been assumed that they must rely either upon the popular vote or upon the declaration of the Speaker or Chairman of Committees. The popular vote was the ancient, constitutional, recognized 1633 method of procedure; but those who understood what it really was would be very slow to assent to its acceptance as a means of meeting obstruction. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in advocating the claims of that mode of procedure, said it was important to have the opinion I f of those who had seen and known. But was the popular vote the expression of the opinion of those who had seen and known? No, it was nothing of the kind. They were in great danger from obstruction; but they would be in greater danger still were they to accept the popular vote as the test of obstruction. The result in practice would be that when the bells of the House rang hon. Members would flock in from the various rooms of the House where they had dispersed, to decide peremptorily on the conduct of a man whose action, which I they had not seen or watched, might, perhaps, be of the most patriotic character as in the opposition in the first f stages of the South African Bill. Should they then be driven to accept the authority of the Speaker? Was that the only alternative? He ventured to think that it would be very injudicious even to expose the Speaker to the odium and difficulty of having to fasten on any particular Member and point to him as having been guilty of obstruction. This course involved the danger of placing the Speaker in an attitude of apparent hostility to a section of the House. And then there was this difficulty—that if they were to invest the Speaker with the authority to which he had referred, they must invest the same power in the Chairman of Committees, and he himself drew an immense difference between the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees. The present Chairman was a staunch Party man, as might be fully seen from his speeches at Chester, but had always preserved an admirable impartiality in the Chair. They could not, however, tell what kind of Chairman they might get in the future; he might be puzzle-headed or incompetent for the position might be filled by many hon. Gentlemen in the same Sitting. It should also be borne in mind that a Chairman of Committees was generally a strong Party man, so that it would be a dangerous step to give him so vast a power as that of deciding upon the motives of a particular Member; and it should also be remembered that these obstructive measures were chiefly adopted 1634 in Committee. Reasoning in this way, he (Mr. Courtney) had been drawn to the conclusion that the best way to meet the difficulties of the case would be the institution of a Committee of order. The House, as had been said, was jealous or its authority; but, in spite of than jealousy, it had always parted with in forming an opinion whenever the rights of individuals were concerned and why should it not do so in this matter too? Private Bills were relegated to Committees upstairs, because they affected the rights of individuals a similar practice was followed when a question arose as to whether an hon. Member had vacated his seat, and the same course was adopted, under Mr. Grenville's Act, in the case of Election Petitions, in order that private individuals might not be prejudiced be a chance decision of the House. Now the question of obstruction was a question involving the rights of individuals and, therefore, following the precedent! that existed, they should also refer questions of obstruction to a Select Committee. For that reason, he had suggested that when a Member was sup posed to offend his case should be examined by a Committee of order, when should report to the House. He should not enter into particulars as to the constitution of the Committee he proposed as they were in print and spoke for themselves. In this way, the feebleness of the penalty of the Resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which everyone had remarked upon, would be got over, for the House would never think by a deliberate vote to sentence man to only one day's silence. It was because the proposed tribunal was no sufficiently deliberative, authoritative and final, that the sentence was so feeble If a question of obstruction were referred to a tribunal that would have the authority of a Select Committee and their reported as a real case of obstruction the penalty that would follow would surely be greater than one of suspension for one night. Let them make the initial procedure stronger, and they would be able to enforce a stronger penalty. The penalty, he contended, should only involve the silencing, not voting, of Member, because by speech his offence would originate, and by silencing hi speech the offence would be cured. I man for the first time might properly he suspended for a fortnight or a month. 1635 The right hon. Gentleman's proposal appeared also to be open to condemnation in the necessity which it involved of a discussion in the House if a third offence should be perpetrated. Now, the very thing which ought to be avoided, in his opinion, was the provoking of discussions in the House upon such questions. Let the original question be sent to the tribunal of a Committee, and let the Committee determine the guilt or innocence of a Member, and then let the penalty for the offence be inflicted without any discussion at all. In such a course there was a speedy and sufficient remedy. He did not mean, he might add, to move his plan as an Amendment to the Resolutions, because he would rather that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's plan was tried. But he wished to protest against the language he had heard from several hon. Members on his own side of the House against making any alteration at all. They must be feeble indeed if they were to listen to any such advice. They must be terrified indeed at what had happened at Liverpool and elsewhere, if they could not consider such a question of detail as a difference between suspension and speaking. When the House came to consider the details of the plan of the Government free criticism would, he hoped, be applied to it, so that it might receive the Amendment of which he thought it stood in need.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, he thought there was a great likelihood that even-handed justice would not be dealt out, under the proposed Resolutions, to all Members alike. [Cries of"Divide!"] He did not at all recognize the propriety of those cries, inasmuch as the question under discussion was one of all others on which he had, he thought, a right to speak; for he had been pointed to as being an Obstructionist, although he entirely denied the justice of the imputation. With regard to the duty of a minority, he believed it was to criticize the preposterous conduct of the majority. That was the object they had to serve. The hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) had asserted that whenever an allegation of obstruction was made against an hon. Gentleman it was the conscience or instinct of the House which should form an opinion on the question as to whether there had been really obstruction or not; but, for his part, he (Mr. Biggar) thought if the question was 1636 to be determined by the instinct of a number of hon. Members, or even the instinct of the Speaker, they would lose the action of the Irish constituencies at the approaching General Election. Thus the Government were already electioneering on a grand scale, and were doing what was best calculated to arouse the passions of the people of England and turn them in the direction most likely to serve the purposes of the Tory Party. The Resolutions were intended to serve something more than a mere Party cry. They were the offspring of a long-deliberated, long-matured plan, for the execution of which the present was thought the most opportune time. The Resolutions were the machinery of a system which was designed to enable the majority of that House to subject to the indignity of enforced silence and deprivation of legislative functions the Representatives of Ireland who should have the temerity to press, with, what English Members would call, the importunate earnestness which was carried on by hon. Members of the Party of which his hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) was the Leader. Commenting upon their conduct, the newspapers to which he had referred suggested that penal measures should be resorted to. Such newspapers were not acting properly, and he maintained that they had no right to pay any attention to these irresponsible writers. Although no attempt had been made to define obstruction, several instances of alleged obstruction had been cited in the course of the discussion by hon. Gentlemen opposite; but he could only remember two or three cases where there had been special obstruction practised. One was the South African Bill. When that Bill was introduced by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Colonies, no explanation, so far as he could recollect, was offered by him as to the objects it had in view. It so happened that the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) understood the whole question, and, believing it was an objectionable Bill, he opposed it in a most determined manner. The result was that the Government, joined by the front Opposition Bench, came to an understanding that they would force the Bill through the House. What followed? The measure was passed in a slipshod manner, without proper examination, and the consequences were most mischievous. 1637 This country lost several millions of money and a large number of British soldiers. Another Bill on which it was said there was obstruction was the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill, which was discussed at great length. A discussion was raised, chiefly through the efforts of the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell), on the question of flogging. That question of flogging was debated in Committee on Amendment after Amendment. A great deal of time was consumed; but the result was that the front Opposition Bench made it a Party question, and flogging in the Army was abolished. In these cases of so-called obstruction the public interest was served; and, therefore, it could not properly be called obstruction. He did not profess to give a definition of the word; but he understood it very well. He did not think hon. Members could be fairly charged with obstruction, if they moved to report Progress at a late hour of the night, when hon. Gentlemen were thoroughly tired. It was remarkable that the charge had been brought against hon. Members only for obstruction when the House was in Committee. At such times, he supposed, there was more freedom of discussion and more liability of Members on the Government side to get excited and to bring these charges of obstruction. For himself, he was not annoyed at seeing these stringent Rules being passed, because he thought the day was not far distant when the people of England and Ireland, who had the power of returning Representatives to that House, would turn the tide against many of its present Members. When that day came they would see a far different House of Commons from that they had at present; and hon. Gentlemen opposite, probably, would like to be at liberty themselves to impede the progress of those great reforms which were impending, and which, in accordance with their traditional policy, they might be desirous of opposing. Probably they would some day have a House which might carry a Bill to abolish the House of Lords, and also to abolish Irish, and possibly English, landlords. Then those hon. Gentlemen who now seemed so anxious to make a stringent Rule against Irish Members would be less desirous to see such a Rule carried into effect. He certainly had on many occasions called the attention of the Speaker to the fact that 40 Members 1638 were not present; but it was always on public grounds. It was little in accordance with their theories of the conduct of Public Business to see an able Member of the House addressing two or three of his fellow-Members only, and for that reason he had occasionally resorted to the machinery of a count to procure an audience for his hon. Friends. But he had never moved a count for the sake of wasting time. He did not object to the half-past 12 Rule, because it was a very salutary one, and it made it impossible for a Bill to pass without some explanation being given. As for breaches of Order, it was not easy for a private Member to avoid occasionally committing them—the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself had tripped—but he did not remember a single case of the ruling of the Chair being set at defiance; and, therefore, the Resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were uncalled for and unnecessary. It was the duty of hon. Members to criticize everything which came before the House, and criticism was not obstruction, the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) had spoken of obstruction; but he (Mr. Biggar) wished to remind the House that the same hon. and learned Member had frequently "talked out" Irish Bills on Wednesday afternoons. The obstruction had been on the part of the Government, and he denied that he or any of his Colleagues had been guilty of it. More time was wasted by the Government in their conduct of Public Business than was wasted by all the Irish Members.
§ Amendment, by leave,withdrawn.
§ Mr. BIGGAR
, in moving an Amendment to the effect that no charge of obstruction should be brought against hon. Members, if after 1 o'clock in the morning they made repeated Motions for adjournment, said, his object in doing so was to enable hon. Members to do so without being liable to a charge of obstruction.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1, after the word "whenever," to insert the words "before one o'clock a.m."—(Mr. Biggar.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that the Amendment as it appeared on the Paper 1639 referred to "one o'clock p.m." He supposed the hon. Member meant a.m.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he was unable to agree to the Amendment, on the ground that it would afford universal licence to Members after 1 o'clock. He did not think the Resolution would prevent hon. Gentlemen from moving the adjournment of the House either before or after that hour.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I wish, Sir, to call the attention of the House to a paragraph which appeared inThe Standardnewspaper of this morning, and which says—"We are informed that in consequence of the receipt of a telegram from Mr. Parnell, Mr. Biggar has resolved"——[Cries of"Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out to the hon. Member that the House is now considering a specific Amendment, and that any observations made should be relevant to that Amendment.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
regretted he was not in the House when the Amendment was proposed. It was an Amendment which he thought was not worth a minute's consideration. The House had passed a Standing Order that no opposed Business should be taken after half-past 12 o'clock at night, and the Amendment would invite all kinds of controversy after 1 o'clock in the morning.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
remarked, that the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) seemed to have taken up obstruction as hisbéte noire, vicethe Jesuits deposed; and the hon. Gentleman, apparently, knew as little about the one subject as he did about the other. The Amendment would undoubtedly give general license after 1 o'clock; but if it was somewhat wide in its scope in that respect, so was that of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it was for that reason it was proposed. At the same time, he thought that important Business ought not to be taken after that hour.
§ MR. COURTNEY
did not rise to support the Amendment, but to make an observation on what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He did not apprehend that the new Rule would supersede the old ones. This was anew Rule; but the method of procedure it supplied was simply cumulative on former methods, which would remain in- 1640 tact; and, therefore, it was not correct to say that there would be universal licence after 1 o'clock, if the new Rule then ceased to be operative.
§ Question put.
§ The Housedivided:—Ayes 14; Noes 290: Majority 276.—(Div. List, No. 23.)
§ MR. O'DONNELL
, in moving an Amendment providing that at least 100 Members of the House should be present during the act relied for to constitute an offence of the character contemplated by the proposed Rule, said, he had no desire to press this Amendment to a division, if he received some satisfactory assurance from the Government on the subject; but he required some assurance from Her Majesty's Ministers that they would themselves provide such Amendments as would make it a matter of comparatively little importance whether it was a large or a small number of hon. Gentlemen who were present during the commission of the alleged offence. In such a manner to proceed with a very small and limited House would simply be to bind over Members and constituents alike to a blind, or rather purblind vote, which would neither, in reality, solve the question at issue nor conduce to the dignity of the House, and which might inflict irreparable wrong upon a man for some alleged offence of which he was really innocent, and on which, if he were guilty, he ought in justice to have a right and fair trial. If, on the other hand, a series of offences took place in a full House, before a large number of witnesses, then whatever might be formally incorrect and improper in the situation in the passing of sentence upon a Member without any previous opportunity of explanation or defence would disappear. But the fact that 80 or 100 Members could speak as to the conduct which had been pursued—[Interruption]—with great respect to that hon. House, he ventured to submit that during the present debate, full of such grave consequences to hon. Members themselves, hon. Gentlemen ought not to indulge in private conversation. He had been endeavouring conscientiously to discuss the question before the Chair, and he did not think that up to the present time he had wasted a single moment in that object. He trusted that hon. Gentlemen who were called upon, as they were now, not merely to act in the ordinary capacity of Members of Parliament, but to act somewhat in a 1641 judicial capacity, would preserve somewhat of the decorum of the Judicial Bench. He was saying, when interrupted, that if there was a good House, consisting of the number of Members he had named, a good many objections suggested by the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would disappear in practice. In such a case, an hon. Member could fairly trust his case to the judgment of those who had been the witnesses of his conduct during the evening; but if they were only to have a handful of hon. Gentlemen—if there was to be no explanation or discussion, and if hon. Members were to be called up from the Smoking Room, the Library, St. Stephen's Club, and other places, to vote about what they knew nothing, it was absolutely necessary to provide some precaution against the exercise of any such arbitrary power. It was all very well to say that the House of Commons was omnipotent and could do everything. But though the House of Commons could do everything, it did not follow that the House should, do anything without discrimination.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1, after the word "Member," to insert the words "at least one hundred Members being present."—(Mr. O'Donnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the object of the Resolution was to enable the Speaker or the Chairman to enforce his decision as to the orderly or disorderly conduct of any Member, and he did not think it would be possible to limit that power in the way suggested by the hon. Member. If the power was one which ought to be given at all, it was one which ought to be exercised when the House was complete for Public Business—that was to say, when there were 40 Members present. Without, therefore, entering into the other questions which the hon. Gentleman raised, and which could be discussed on other Amendments, he had only to say he could not assent to the one now proposed.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, in answering the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that no power was conferred on the Speaker by the Amendment, and, therefore, no power was taken away by its adoption. He would suggest that no 1642 vote should be taken unless 40 Members were present when the Speaker named the offending Member. It was well known that when the division bell rang many hon. Members from the Library and elsewhere always flocked in, and, in cases of this kind, would vote as to an offence which they were supposed to have witnessed, but of which they knew actually nothing.
§ MR. SYNAN
said, there were three ways of getting out of the difficulty—leaving the matter altogether in the hands of the Speaker; next, shutting and locking the door when a Member was named, and allowing no Member to enter until a vote had been taken; and, thirdly, allowing the Member to defend himself before the House pronounced judgment.
§ MR. SHAW
trusted that the Government would make a concession on the point under discussion. The whole thing was an experiment, and it should have a fair trial. It was very undesirable that hon. Members who knew nothing of a particular case should yet be allowed to pronounce judgment upon it; and he would, therefore, prefer that the whole responsibility should be left with the Speaker.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that the Resolution of which he had given Notice was in accordance with the practice of that House, which had always been that no Member should be suspended from his functions unless, after due notice, the House came to a decision upon his case. He did feel that this Resolution was casting upon the Speaker an invidious and summary jurisdiction; and unless that jurisdiction were supported by the House upon a division the position of the Speaker would be intolerable. He must beg the House to forgive him for urging that this Resolution was a departure from its practice of many hundreds of years, during which it had never allowed the Privileges of the meanest of its Members, or the Representatives of the meanest of its constituencies, to be interfered with without passing deliberate judgment on the question.
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN
rose to Order. What did the hon. Member mean by mean constituencies? Did he refer to North Warwickshire?
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that his words were intended to support the argument of the hon. Member for Dungarvan. He said that the House would not 1643 allow the meanest of its Members, or the Representatives of the meanest of its constituencies——
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN
Exactly. I rise to Order again. Sir, I maintain there is no such thing known to the Constitution as a mean constituency.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that he was endeavouring to urge that by the practice of this House no Member, or the Representative of no constituency——[Major O'GORMAN: Bravo!]—was interfered with in the exercise of his Privileges until found guilty by the House after due deliberation. He humbly conceived that he was putting the case urged by the hon. Member for Dungarvan in the strongest manner he could. He did think that the proceedings suggested by the Notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a means of exercising a very summary jurisdiction, and constituted an arbitrary interference with the rights not only of Members of this House, but of their constituents also, which was not adequately protected by the very slight remedy which was added. Because he felt that it was an interference with the privileges of hon. Members, he should object to the words "or otherwise." He thought that the adoption of those words would be inflicting penalties infinitely more severe than the nature of the case demanded. He did not think that any measure of expulsion should be sanctioned by the House which superseded the long standing privileges of Members to have their cases heard and determined by the House after due notice. He trusted the House would forgive him for urging upon it that, if he rightly understood the words of the Resolution, it cast the duty of acting judicially and after notice in the infliction of penalties upon hon. Members upon the Chair, without the Member in question having notice. They were asked, therefore, to curtail the judicial action of the House always exercised after due notice, and to put the power of condemnation and of inflicting penalties, which might be for the gravest offences, upon the Chair, supported by a division taken immediately and without notice. It seemed to him that there would be two manifest defects in this Resolution; and he could not think that the House would be acting wisely in extending the purview of this Resolution to undefined offences which the words "or otherwise" would 1644 cover. In his opinion, it would be quite sufficient to limit the Resolution to the offence of obstruction.
§ MR. FINIGAN
said, that if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan did not meet with the acceptance of the House three alternative propositions had been placed before it, and would, he hoped, receive the serious consideration of the House. He hoped that the House would very carefully consider the principles of the Amendment then before it. It would, indeed, be a sorry spectacle for the British House of Commons to present to the strangers in the Galleries, or to the Press over the Speaker's Chair, to put upon them the duty of recording that a Member had been suspended from the Privileges of the House because he had—perhaps through too fine a sense of duty—been led into what might be judged by the Chair to be an act of obstruction. It would be much worse if that occurred in a small House which should be called upon to judge the case. Hon. Members would be hurried into the House without having heard the previous parts of the debate, or without having witnessed or, perhaps, he might even go so far as to say, without being willing to witness, or willing to listen to, any of the remarks which constituted the alleged obstructive conduct of the offending Member. He thought that it would be in derogation of the spirit of British or English fair play for the House to condemn any Member without giving him an opportunity of explanation, or without giving the House itself a legitimate opportunity of forming a sound and fair judgment as to whether the Member was guilty of the alleged offence or not. Hon. Members upon that side of the House, and particularly the hon. Members with whom he was connected, would not allow any cries of "Divide, divide!" or other interruptions to interfere between them and their duty. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would make some compromise based on justice and in the spirit of fair play with those who differed from him on the subject of these Resolutions. He was quite sure that the hon. Member for Dungarvan would accept that compromise; and it would show the House, and would show not only to England but to Ireland, against which this particular measure of legislation was aimed, that, at all events, if any of its Representa- 1645 tives did err, they would not be judged in an unjust or unfair manner. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to make some compromise.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, that he rose for the purpose of expressing a hope that the Government would accept the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) that there should be at least a quorum—that was, 40 Members—present when the House was summoned to decide upon any case. What did that proposition involve? It only involved the necessity of a quorum of Members being kept in the House by whoever was in charge of the Business of the House. It seemed to him that that was a very simple requirement, and that it would be a very proper one to accede to. He did not think that they ought to sit there and quietly allow these Resolutions to be passed without any guarantee that there might not be more than four or five Members present when questions of this character were decided. It would be so easy to prevent that happening by the adoption of the Amendment proposed that he hesitated to believe that the concession would be withheld. That was the first occasion on which he had spoken during the course of the debate, and he had hoped that it would have concluded without his having to do so. He should have wished that the matter had been presented to the House in a less objectionable form. It appeared to him that there was a great principle involved in the question. During the present Session he had heard the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) make a speech, under circumstances which seemed to him to be an illustration of the argument he was offering to the House. That hon. and learned Member was speaking to a House composed of Mr. Speaker and two other hon. Members. What judgment could hon. Members come to upon what had been going on in the House in a case such as he mentioned, when they were only summoned to it by the division bell? Ought not those Members to have been present who were to sit in judgment? It did seem to him that the proposal of the hon. Member for Limerick was a proper one, and that it was only right that on an occasion so solemn as that of depriving a Member of his privileges and his constituents of his vote, and, therefore, of 1646 their franchise, that a quorum of the House should be present, and that that quorum should have witnessed what had occurred. He trusted that there might be no counting into Lobbies on this occasion, for the greater the amount of spontaneous concession by the Government in framing this Rule the better would it be received by the country, and the better would it act in the long run.
§ MR. H. SAMUELSON
said, that in discussing the Resolution he could not be accused of obstructing Public Business, for the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had promised that every opportunity should be given to hon. Members to consider the Resolution. With the greatest deference to the House, he said it had no idea what kind of obstruction that Resolution was directed against. He wished to state one reason why he thought the Amendment should not be put to the House; but, at the same time, he did think there was so much in the observations that had fallen from Irish Members as to the injustice liable to be put upon a Member, if the Resolution was carried as it stood, that he would add his entreaty to the Government not to put the matter entirely into the hands of the majority of the House. As had been said, the occasions when the Resolution would be put in force would be very solemn ones, and such as would require the attendance of a quorum. It was impossible to lay down any rule as to the presence of Members. When an occurrence of this kind might happen at any moment and without warning it would be absurd to insist that a quorum of the House should always be present, or otherwise, that the Speaker should not be able of his own Motion to enforce Order in the Assembly. He believed that to every Member of the House the decision of the Speaker would carry perfect satisfaction at all times, and that if in the exercise of his discretion the Speaker were to put in force the Resolution, there would be no dissatisfaction on any side. On the other hand, if the decision rested with the majority of the House there would be considerable dissatisfaction, and a feeling might arise that Members had been unjustly treated by their political opponents. It would be said, as well outside the House as in, that hon. Members were hurried up without having heard the occurrence that had given rise to the Motion, and without knowing anything of the merits 1647 of the case, to give their vote against a particular individual. It must be remembered that the Resolution might affect those who acted entirely from conscientious motives; and it was not against such he was sure that the Government wished to proceed. It seemed to him the simple way out of the difficulty was to place in the hands of the Speaker, in whom they all had absolute confidence, the decision as to whether a Member had been guilty of obstruction or not.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that some hon. Members had stated that Irish Members, of whom he was one, did not care in the least for the decisions of that House. When he became a Member of that House, six years ago, he knew nothing of the decisions of that House; but he had since had considerable experience with regard to them. He should be disposed to think that if the decisions of the House were to be given by hon. Members who knew nothing whatever of the circumstances of the case upon which they were voting that they would not merit any consideration at his hands. Yet that would be the position of the matter if the Resolution were agreed to, for the conduct of hon. Members would be at the mercy of a majority who knew nothing whatever of the matter.
§ MR. P. MARTIN
said, that he was amongst those hon. Members who considered that nothing could be more injurious to the interests of Ireland than obstruction in the sense of a personal waste of the time of the House by the discussion of irrelevant matters. But, to be effective, a Resolution of the present character ought to be considered as fair and impartial. But if the terms of this Resolution were to be forced on the House by the Government it would not be so considered by the people of Ireland. As the Resolution stood, the punishment intended to be inflicted by the Resolution was placed in the hands of a majority, who might use the Resolution as a means of Party spite. Under those circumstances, he asked the House why they had not heard from the Treasury Bench one single word of answer to the forcible remonstrances of the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) and others? He could not understand why an answer had not been given to the grave objections which had been offered to the Resolution in its present shape. The Resolution was not 1648 only utterly contrary to all Parliamentary precedent, but was conceived in a spirit which was quite foreign to the English law. A Member accused was not to be allowed an opportunity of vindicating himself from the charges made against him. What was the proud boast of British law, but that no man should be condemned unheard. But now the honour and privileges of a Member of that House were to be subjected to deprivation at the hands of Gentlemen who might not be present or know anything at all as to the matter in controversy or nature of the offence which they were to punish by their votes. He did not know whether anyone had taken the trouble to read the terms of the Resolution; but it seemed to him to go far beyond any question of obstruction. A Member might be subjected to the punishment provided by the Resolution, not only for abusing the Forms of the House by what was called obstruction, but for any other offence, as indicated by the words "or otherwise." Therefore, if in the heat of debate, or in the excitement of argument, an hon. Member were taunted by the other side, and was tempted into any slight abuse or transgression of the ordinary Rules of debate, he might be subjected to this punishment. It might be urged that the Speaker stood, to a certain extent, as a protector of the hon. Members; but if the Speaker was to protect hon. Members, why not invest the slight power in him? He could thoroughly well understand the proposition that an absolute power of this kind was to be vested in the Speaker. But the provisions of this Resolution seemed to him to be a sham. If the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees was to name an hon. Member, then Members were to be summoned from different parts of the House, and from half-a-dozen clubs, to vote upon a question as to which they knew nothing. What were hon. Members to do under those circumstances? If they knew nothing whatever about the circumstances of the case, it would obviously be their duty to record their vote in support of the Chair; and, moreover, it would also be the duty of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to move a Resolution in support of the authority of the Chair. As he understood, from observations made upon the other side of the House, it was not the intention to punish a mere 1649 inadvertent transgression; but it was desired to punish organized obstruction, which had for its object the destruction of the authority of that House, and bringing it into disrepute. But the Government was not satisfied with vesting authority in the Speaker; they went further, and said that they required something more—namely, a vote of the House in aid of the Speaker. Had they not sufficient confidence in the Speaker to give him the sole control and authority in this matter? Did they believe that the Speaker would not temperately and wisely exercise the discretion vested in him? He did not understand how an honourable man could reconcile it to his conscience to say that a Member of the House had been guilty of a Parliamentary offence, when he knew nothing about it. Was that the way in which in an ordinary Constitutional manner the laws of England were enforced against a person? Was it ever the custom that a person could be condemned unheard? He would refer to the ordinary rules which governed trial by jury. No one ever heard that juries should be allowed to decide without having heard any portion of the trial or any part of the evidence. He did not see any reason why a Member of that House should be placed in a worse position with regard to his privileges than an ordinary criminal was when accused of the vilest offences. He had listened with the greatest possible attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing this Resolution, and he made use of the words "that the Members who were present would have the decision upon the question." But he had gone over the Resolution very carefully, and it was plain the powers of suspension was not confined to the Members who were present. Under those circumstances, he could look upon the Resolution as nothing but a sham provision, which professed, but really did not give, fair play to hon. Members accused of obstruction.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, that as to the complaint that the Government had made no answer to the speeches, they seemed to him to have travelled very wide of the subject; and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had already given the reply of the Government when the Amendment was moved, he did not think they could fairly be blamed for not embarking on the very wide field which had 1650 been travelled over, especially as the principle of the Resolution had been accepted. The Amendment, that 100 Members must be present before the Speaker could name any individual Member, anyone must see would destroy the effect of the whole Resolution; but hon. Members who did support this important contention maintained that, if this was not accepted, then another Amendment lower down on the Paper might be worthy of support; but surely they were not to be called upon to argue upon suppositious Amendments, and the House could not complain if the Government discussed each Amendment as it came up. Hon. Members spoke as if the authority of the Speaker must be regarded as altered; but, practically, the effect of the Resolution was that after the Speaker had named a Member as guilty of this particular offence the House would be summoned to come to a decision as to the penalty to follow. He was taunted with the fact that this was a Resolution of the Government—and, no doubt, it was; but why did they propose it? Because it was in principle the Resolution suggested by the Select Committee which sat in the year 1878. The principle of this Amendment was discussed at great length on the previous evening. In the discussion of that afternoon, he did not think he had heard any further arguments which would be sufficient to induce the Government to depart from the Motion which they had submitted to the House. The only reason why the authority of the House was called in after Mr. Speaker had declared a Member guilty of obstruction was to carry out the old Constitutional principle that the Speaker was the organ, and not the dictator, of the House; to clothe the decision he had already given with the further sanction of the House, and to bring upon the offending Member, in the most formal manner possible, the decision of the Speaker and the House.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, that if the Government had permanently made up their minds they could not entertain the suggestion, made with great unanimity from both sides of the House, that all power should be placed in the hands of the Speaker without intervention or the vote of the House, then he must, of course, admit that there was very little use in the prolongation of this discussion. The noble Lord, however, had not taken that 1651 ground; he had invited them to discuss the question, not upon this Amendment, but upon a subsequent one. But the noble Lord and the Government must see that, if there was any intention of acceding to the almost unanimous expression of opinion that had come from both sides of the House, a great deal of time could be saved by making the announcement at that moment, and taking away the whole force of the arguments which were used to support the present Amendment. He certainly himself could not support the Amendment now moved, nor any modification of it, because if he did that it would be to appear to admit that any amount of obstruction or opposition to the Rules of the House might take place when less than 40 or less than 100 Members were present. Unless, indeed, they were prepared altogether to re-consider their Rules, and to insist that a quorum of Members must always be present in the House, this Amendment must be regarded as almost an absurdity. He must, however, at the same time, point out that all the force of any arguments used in support of this Amendment were derived from the mistake, if not, indeed, the injustice, of asking a number of Members to decide on a question of which they could have no possible knowledge. It would, therefore, be an exceedingly good thing for the Government to inform the House whether they had arrived at their irrevocable decision on this point. The noble Lord who had just sat down had said that the arguments had been sufficiently answered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He would point out, in reply to that, that the only answer that had been given was that just offered by the noble Lord to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because every Member that had addressed the House, not upon one side only, but upon both sides, had supported the position which he had suggested to them. The noble Lord had laid some stress upon the fact that this Motion was the Resolution of a proposition of the Select Committee. He did not himself wish to revive arguments which had been stated before to the House; but it was really very difficult to avoid doing so, when they were absolutely ignored by the noble Lord. He himself pointed out, on the previous evening, that this Resolution was not the Resolution suggested by the Select Committee, because from it had been 1652 omitted the very important proposition that the Member should be allowed to be heard in his own defence. That made a very considerable difference in the Motion. He did not want to go over his arguments in detail; but, still, he must draw the noble Lord's attention to that correction, because really this was something which had been omitted.
said, that when the noble Lord the Postmaster General objected to additional power being placed in the hands of the Speaker, on the ground that such a step would be a departure from the ancient usages of the House, his argument could have very little weight when it was known that this trust itself was the greatest violation that had ever been known of the ancient Forms of Parliament. He could not but express his gratification at finding himself, on the first occasion for many years, able thoroughly to agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate). Though he had often differed from that hon. Member, he would venture to say to him—though he had never doubted that his course had always been actuated by a strict regard for principle—that his opinion on that point had certainly been confirmed that evening. There could not be the smallest doubt that his hon. Friend was perfectly right in contending that the Government had not been able to put forward one single argument in favour of the course they proposed to take, and that they were simply relying upon the strength of their majority to force this Resolution on an unwilling House. He was anxious to give them time for the consideration of this whole question, in order that they might debate it amongst themselves fairly and fully, and, with that view, he would move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(The O'Donoghue.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
hoped the House would not consent to the Motion for adjournment, although he was not sorry that it had been proposed, because it gave him an opportunity of saying a few words which otherwise he would not be able to address to the House. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition had remarked that the Government had been supported by no- 1653 body except by his noble Friend the Postmaster General in support of that particular proposition. It might be that little had been said in support of it; but that was due, he believed, to the fact that a great number of Gentlemen had been anxious to avoid discussing a question on which they would be disposed to support the Government, and were desirous not to take up time with a lengthened debate. With regard to the course of the Government in this matter, however, at an earlier period that evening, when the House was not so full as now, he went at some length into the course which they thought it necessary to offer to the proposition they now made. What he then pointed out was that, in the first place, it was a mistake to suppose that the proposition was that Members of the House should be called upon to judge whether a Member had or had not been guilty of a Breach of Order. That was a matter which was already decided for them by the action of the Speaker or the Chairman. The Speaker or the Chairman judged according to what he saw of the hon. Member's conduct; whether he was or was not so far out of Order, and so far irreclaimable by advice from the Chair, that it was necessary to proceed to the step of naming him. Therefore, so far as that point went, the matter was left where hon. Gentlemen wished it to be left, and said it ought to be left—in the discretion of the Chairman, who was cognizant of all that went on, and whose impartiality they all admitted. But then came the question as to the proceedings upon that action of the Chair. Well, it might be said that those who came in voted upon the strength of the decision of the Chairman or the Speaker which they had been informed of. It was, he believed, the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny (Mr. P. Martin) who said he should think it his duty if he came in, not knowing the real facts of the case, to support the Chair. But everybody would at least know that a case had arisen in which the Speaker felt it necessary to name a Member as out of Order. It would then be a question whether they should take the step of sentencing the Member so named to a suspension for the Sitting. But it was argued that there could be no use in bringing this action before the House at all. It was said—"What is the use of it? Why, 1654 if you really trust to the Speaker, should you not leave it to the Speaker nominally, as well as substantially and really, to end the matter?" Earlier in the debate, in answer to that objection, he had urged that though they had only to deal with the question of obstruction in the House and the Speaker in the Chair there might be very little ground for the proceedings proposed. They had, however, to deal with a much more delicate question—namely, the question of obstruction in Committee. It had been well pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich that they had to consider, not only the case when the official Chairman of Committees was in the Chair, but also the case which sometimes happened in which other Gentlemen who were not ordinarily accustomed to the Office of Chairman were placed in the Chair for a short time during the absence of the Chairman of Ways and Means. When that happened, they had undoubtedly in the Chair a Gentleman in whose impartiality and in whose authority and thorough knowledge of the Rules and conduct of the House they had every confidence, but yet who did not occupy the same independent and impartial position that Mr. Speaker did. Whenever the House was in complete Session, even the official Chairman of Committees was a Member of the House, of one side of the House or the other, and taking part in the political controversy which went on. His position was, therefore, one which was necessarily more difficult than that of the Speaker, who was removed from, and occupied a position apart from and above, the Party divisions and struggles of the House. They had to consider, not only what would be the effect of this Resolution in the House, but what would be its effect on any proceedings taken under it outside the House amongst the constituencies. If, for instance, it was capable of being represented abroad amongst the constituencies and the country at large that such and such a Member had been put to silence by the single action of a Gentleman who was his political opponent, and happened for a moment to be occupying the position of Chairman, an invidious question might be raised. Ought not then the House to act for itself, and so to stop the action of the Chairman, and take upon itself as a body the responsibility of the action of suspending an offending Member? That 1655 seemed to him a fairly reasonable contention, and a ground of argument on which the House might venture to adopt this Resolution. He did not desire, and they none of them desired, to question in any way the authority of Mr. Speaker; but they believed they were making an arrangement which would support and assist him, instead of embarrassing him in the discharge of his duties, by a Resolution which certainly was not open to the sort of comment of which he had spoken. He hoped the House would not think of bringing this discussion to a close, but would proceed in carrying to a conclusion the present discussion of these Amendments. The particular one now before the House was one he thought which it would be found quite impossible to entertain on the simple grounds which had been alluded to by his noble Friend, the extreme difficulty of always securing the attendance of a quorum.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
quite agreed with the recommendation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and hoped the Motion for adjournment would not be pressed. At the same time, he felt bound to confess that the arguments that had been used by the Leader of the House, instead of improving the case for the Resolution of the Government, seemed to him to have made it weaker than it ever was before. His noble Friend the Leader of the Opposition had remarked upon a circumstance which must have attracted the attention of everybody present—that during this debate there had not been a single Member who had spoken on either side of the House who had not urged the Government to re-consider their determination to ask for a vote of the House. That had been pressed upon them most strongly. The Opposition, of course, might entertain an opinion in favour of the alteration of the Resolution in that respect; but they had not put the Amendment on the Paper for a reason which he would frankly disclose to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and which was, that they felt that such an Amendment, coming from that side of the House, might have the effect of embarrassing the Government, and have made it difficult for them to accept such an alteration. They thought, therefore, that it was far better that this thing should come to the Government in the form of a suggestion than in the shape of a hostile Amendment, which might have the appearance of taking out of their hands 1656 that conduct of Business which really belonged to them. What, however, was the argument which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had now addressed to the House in support of this particular part of the Motion? He had said that if it were only a question of the action of the Speaker in the House he would have been willing to consent to the change suggested; but it was a different thing when they came to deal with the action of the House in Committee. Let them take that argument by steps. The Chancellor of the Exchequer concurred in what was clearly the main consideration, the action of the House—that, as a whole, the argument was in favour of the Speaker acting alone.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I did not say that. I did not say the argument was in favour of the Speaker acting alone. I said it was a matter of indifference.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
replied, that if it were a matter of indifference the argument was made so much the stronger. The objection taken to these proceedings was that for the first time they were giving to the Speaker an original authority as against Members of the House. That, of course, was perfectly true, as a technical argument; but what was now proposed, or rather what the Government suggested to them they should do, was really no better than that, and he could illustrate his meaning very easily by reminding the House of a very common practice. They knew there were many things which the Crown had no right to do. For instance, the Crown could not create a penal code or authorize criminal procedure against any criminal; but it was a matter of notoriety that the Crown, by Order in Council, issued orders that were penal codes, as, for instance, under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act, the Crown created statutory crimes. But the Crown did not act in that way under its original authority. It acted under a delegated authority which the statute had given it, and from which statute it derived its power. Now, that was exactly what they suggested for the Government that the Speaker should do under this Standing Order. He would not act against a Member out of his original authority; but he would act out of the delegated authority created by the Standing Order, and, therefore, anything he did would, practically, be the act of the House, although it would be, of 1657 course, the act of the House in a general way, and not its action taken upon a particular individual case. Do not let hon. Members be under any misapprehension on this subject, or imagine that the House was parting with its authority. It was, on the contrary, losing its authority, but delegated the exercise of it to the Speaker. With regard to the action of the Speaker in the House, he now understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that it was a matter of indifference whether the Speaker himself acted in regard to a Member, or whether a vote of the House were also taken. But if that was so they got rid of the difficulties, the many difficulties which everybody felt, in the way of asking a body like the House of Commons to decide upon a matter of which it knew nothing. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said—"Oh, it is a matter of indifference, and we might have conceded this if it was not for the question of Committee; but inasmuch as the person who may preside in Committee will not have the same authority as Mr. Speaker, it is necessary to strengthen him in the eyes of the country and of the constituencies by a decision of this character." But he did not ask the House to consider how a decision such as this proposed would strengthen this proceeding in the eyes of the country. They might have either the regular Chairman of Committees in the Chair, or an occasional Chairman of Committees; but in any case there would be a person who had been a witness of the transaction, and a person who had some knowledge of what had occurred and of what constituted some Breach of the Rules of the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer urged that the opinion of this Gentleman would, if confirmed by a vote of the House, induce confidence in the justice and wisdom of the decision. That, in fact, was to say that the vote of persons who had heard nothing whatever about the facts on which the decision was based were persons who would, by their vote, make the country satisfied with a decision which the country would not accept as coming from the Chairman of Committees. A more illogical or unreasonable defence of a proposition he had certainly never heard. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had conceded that if this Motion were to be confined to action in the House he would consent to leave the whole matter in the hands of Mr. 1658 Speaker; but as regarded the regular or the occasional Chairman of Committees, their decisions would require to be supported by the vote of the House. It came to this, therefore—that they could not trust the regular Chairman of Committees, or the Gentleman who was temporarily occupying his place, and who knew all the circumstances of the case; but they would trust a majority summoned into the House on a sudden, with no knowledge of the facts, who were as partizan, and probably a great deal more partizan, than any Chairman of Committees. Let the House again consider what would practically occur. The Chairman of Committees would make up his mind that a Breach of Order had been committed, and that attention must be called to it. What was to happen then? "The Chairman of Committees," said the Motion—Shall, on a Motion being made, put the same question in a similar way, and if the Motion is carried, shall forthwith suspend the proceedings of the Committee and report the circumstance to the House, and the Speaker shall, thereupon, put the Question.Thus the Chairman of Committees was not to be trusted by the House, but was to summon the Speaker, who knew nothing about the transaction, and who had not even been in the House; and the Speaker was again to put the Question to the House as to the suspension of a Member for conduct of which he knew nothing at all, and the decision was to rest with a body of Gentlemen, the greater part of whom were not acquainted with the matter on which they were giving a vote; and this was the transaction which was to give confidence to the nation in the justice of a proceeding which they would not trust, if the action were taken by the Chairman of Committees on his own responsibility. For his part, he could not help thinking that such an action would have a flavour of injustice about it, which would do much to destroy its authority in the country. If the House would consent to trust the officers whom it had appointed to conduct its Business to rely upon their discretion in matters of Order, and would ask the nation whom they represented also to trust their discretion in such matters, he thought they had a reasonable chance of succeeding. But if they took the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Chairman of Committees, or his substitute, were not 1659 to be trusted, how could they ask the country to have confidence in the decision of a haphazard majority, summoned by a division bell to determine a matter on which they knew nothing, and which, they did not understand? He had himself so strong an opinion on this subject that nothing would ever deter him from putting the Amendment on the Paper except the consideration to which he had already referred. Such a course might have made the acceptance of the Amendment very difficult for the Government. They might have replied to him,—"You are taking the business out of our hands, and we cannot, therefore, accept it." But he had heard so many Gentlemen, even on the other side of the House, supporting the view he was now pressing upon the Government, that if, in any form less objectionable and less obnoxious than the Amendment coming from the Opposition, they could be induced to re-consider their determination, he should himself be very glad of the result. Of course, if the Government would not fall into the suggestion he was now offering, certainly in no hostile spirit, they could not help themselves. After all, the Government had the responsibility. The Opposition, however, would fail altogether in their duty, if they did not point out to the House what really seemed to be a weakness in the Resolutions. Let it be remembered that this I was a vote by a number of Gentlemen I summoned into the House to vote "Aye" or "No" against an individual of whose conduct they knew nothing. There was, it must be remembered, no statement either from the Speaker or from the Chairman of Committees as to what had occurred. Hon. Members would hear neither the accusation nor the defence. The Government simply had to give a vote, which, if anything at all, was merely a Ministerial act, and which, consequently, would carry with it no additional force or conviction. Under these circumstances, he did deeply regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended to press a proposition, which, as regarded the main branch of the question, he was not prepared to defend, simply on account of an objection which seemed to have occurred to him as to the proceedings in Committee, an objection which certainly ought not to govern a decision on so important a matter.
said, it had been supposed that hon. Members near him had 1660 not spoken because the Government had no supporters on that side of the House. But the fact was that so much time had been taken up by the warm supporters of the Government, who, sitting upon the Bench opposite, had afforded their support by such lengthened criticisms on every part of the Government Resolution, that those who sat on the opposite side, and who were disposed to support Her Majesty's Government, had almost been compelled to remain silent for lack of time to get in a word edgeways. When, however, it was stated by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) that there was no one on the Conservative side of the House who approved of the Resolution which the Government had brought forward, he thought he might ask the House to allow him to state the reason why he and a great number of others were prepared to support that Resolution. As he understood it, the judgment in the case of a recalcitrant Member was to be given by Mr. Speaker, or by the Chairman of Committees, and that when Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees had decided that an hon. Member was obstructing the Business of the House the hon. Member so offending was suspended; the part of the House being to carry that judgment into execution. Under these circumstances, the execution would be the execution of the House, even though it followed the voice of Mr. Speaker. That was what had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, when he quoted the example of the Crown carrying out the powers conferred upon it by Act of Parliament of passing Orders in Council. Now, as whenever a Member might be silenced by the orders of Mr. Speaker, the common report and vulgar statement would be that "Mr. A. B. had been silenced," it was for that reason most important to keep before the eyes of the country and of the House that it was not Mr. Speaker, but the House itself, which silenced him. That was what he understood the Government intention to be, and he should vote for the Government Resolution, not because they were in a majority—for during the time he had sat in the House of Commons he had always expressed his independent opinion—but because on that occasion he believed Her Majesty's Government were 1661 entirely in the right. Again, he should vote for it because he thought that the particular course which Her Majesty's Government had taken would impress upon the country, whenever this Resolution had to be put in actual force, that it was neither Mr. Speaker nor the Chairman of Committees, but the House itself which, upon the judgment of Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees, sentenced a recalcitrant Member to suspension. He believed that in the few words which he had addressed to the House he had expressed the opinion of scores of hon. Members who were sitting silent on that side of the House, although they were as capable of taking part in this discussion as the hon. Member for Cavan, and were quite as warm, supporters of the Government as the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, who had taken up so much of the time of the House in criticizing the Government Resolution. He hoped, therefore, that hon. Members on his side of the House would not be again told by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, or by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, that nobody on those Benches agreed with Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
had also remained silent during the discussion for very much the same reason which had been put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), having thought he could better assist the Government by allowing the discussion—which, in his opinion, would lead to a foregone conclusion—to proceed. The view which he entertained upon the question under consideration had been expressed by the noble Lord the Member for the Radnor Boroughs (the Marquess of Hartington); but silence on his side of the House was just as likely to be misconstrued as silence on the other side of the House. If the views of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham were correct, the Opposition would not be entitled to make any suggestions at all in a case of this kind; but he entirely differed from the arguments of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and did not think that the judgment of that House—a judgment probably confirmed by a Party majority—would carry as much weight in the country as the judgment of a Gentleman occupying the high and impartial position of Speaker. He could not help thinking that the Resolution, 1662 as it stood, was rather calculated to minimize the effect of the censure intended to be pronounced on an offending Member. What was likely to happen? Mr. Speaker would pronounce a certain Member to have offended, and then the House would be called upon to pronounce an opinion, and could proceed to execute the judgment of Mr. Speaker—that was what the hon. and learned Member for Chatham had stated. But he could conceive that the Party to which the offending Member belonged might find it necessary to support him, and in that case the decision of the Speaker would be confirmed only by a Party majority, which confirmation would, in his opinion, carry with it not one-half of the weight which would be carried by the censure of Mr. Speaker himself. Again, take the case of the condemnation of an hon. Member by the Chairman of Committees. In this case the House would be called upon in a judicial capacity to decide in place of the Chairman of Committees, who might possibly be a partizan, whether or not such Member had been unjustly condemned. It appeared to him that such a decision would practically carry with it no weight at all. Upon the whole question, he ventured to make a respectful appeal to the Government to give way upon the point. He did not think that the Government could complain of the way in which they had been met on this Resolution; there had been suggestions and criticisms. But he did not know why the Opposition were present in the House of Commons if they were not to be allowed to criticize respectfully the measures as to the Rules of the House which the Government might bring forward. But there had been an almost unanimous expression of opinion on the part of the House that an evil had been found to exist, and that a remedy must be applied to it; there had also been a desire on the part of the House to give full consideration to the proposal of the Government. If the, Government would accept the suggestion of the noble Lord the leader of the Opposition, which had been supported on both sides of the House, they would have practically a unanimous concurrence with their Resolution, which he ventured to say would have a greater weight than such a Resolution as they could no doubt force upon the House by the power of a Party majority. If, how- 1663 ever, they preferred to treat this as a Party question; if they refused to meet the Opposition in the spirit in which the Opposition had endeavoured to meet the Government, and carried the Resolution by a Party majority, he could only hope that his hon. Friends around him would throw the whole of the responsibility upon Her Majesty's Government, and allow them to take the Resolution as it stood. That course would, in his opinion, conduct to the dignity of the House; and if the Resolution failed to gain the unanimous support of the House of Commons, the responsibility would rest upon the Government and not upon the Opposition. He reminded hon. Members that there had been imputed to certain sections of the House a desire to support obstruction, and to defeat any proposal of the Government to deal with it. He did not believe that any such intention or desire had ever existed on his side of the House; and, speaking for himself at all events, he called hon. Members to witness that from the first, whenever he had had occasion to speak in that House, he had protested against anything in the shape of obstruction with ulterior motives. His idea of the definition of obstruction was that it was not obstruction to any particular measure, but that it was obstruction to a particular measure with some ulterior motive. He was, perhaps, more anxious than some hon. Members opposite to preserve the liberties of minorities in that House; but he was opposed to obstruction in the sense which he had described, and this he believed was the opinion of almost the whole of the House. That being so, he thought they could best defeat the intention of those who seemed desirous of fixing upon the Opposition a connection with obstructive proceedings—which they emphatically repudiated—by throwing upon the Government the whole responsibility in this matter, and leaving to them the consequences of their own acts.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
thought that to press the adjournment would not be unwise, inasmuch as it would give the Government an opportunity of considering the matter and their position with regard to it at a very critical point of the discussion. On the general question, he, for one, would much prefer that the responsibility of deciding as to the conduct of any hon. Member should rest with Mr. Speaker, rather than with a 1664 number of Members who knew nothing of what had been going on, and who, by the Resolution, were to be qualified to pronounce judgment or pass sentence of execution. It was not, in his opinion, conducive to the dignity of the House to impose upon it the duties of executioner, and he thought it would be better if they could discover some other means by which to carry out the judgment. He thought that if by adjourning they could allow the Government to re-consider their position and to think calmly over the matter, they would thereby advance the future discussion of the whole question. With regard to the Chairman of Committees, there was both delicacy and difficulty in raising this question. The Chairman of Committees stood in altogether a different position from that of the Speaker of the House; and he thought the Government would be compelled to withdraw those portions of the Resolution which related to him and deal with that Officer in a separate manner. He hoped that the Government would keep this part of the question quite distinct from the other.
§ EARL PERCY
expressed his astonishment at the doctrine laid down by the hon. Member for Birmingham, that the minority should give way to the majority for the purpose of passing this Resolution.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, the noble Lord had misunderstood him. He had said that "as far as the debate had gone there had been an unanimous expression"—except from the Government Bench of course—"in favour of the suggestion of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition," and that "he thought that if the Government accepted that suggestion they would have the unanimous concurrence of the House."
§ EARL PERCY
asked pardon of the hon. Member for Birmingham; but if that was the meaning of what he had said, he could not understand what was meant by the remark that it was in the power of the majority to cause an unwilling minority to pass an objectionable Resolution. He supposed, however, the hon. Member meant to say that those who sat on the side of the House opposite to him were ready to sacrifice their convictions in order to follow Her Majesty's Government. The hon. Member for Birmingham had told them that if the Government with their majority forced this Resolution on the minority the 1665 minority should throw the responsibility upon the majority—that they should abdicate their functions altogether; cease to criticize, and cease to endeavour to force their opinions upon the House. If that were to be their doctrine as between majorities and minorities in the House of Commons it would very soon come to this—that the minority would tyrannize over the majority. But he thought it would have been a bolder course for the minority in the House to pursue—a course which he had seen pursued on former occasions—to have criticized and boldly challenged, if they pleased, a decision, and when defeated not to have ceased, he had almost said in a huff, to carry out their duty as a minority and as an Opposition of criticizing the Government proposals.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
rose to call attention to the question immediately before the House. If they did not take care the country would begin to think they were not in earnest in the matter at all. The Government had brought forward the Resolutions with the intention of carrying them, as he believed, with the approbation of the great majority of the House. One thing was quite certain—they could not finish them that night; and another thing was equally clear—they could go on with no other Business of the House until they were finished. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had already said that if the discussion was not concluded at that Sitting it would have to be resumed at 12 o'clock next morning. That being so, he thought the most sensible thing which the House could do would be at once to adjourn the debate. But, before he sat down, there were one or two points to which he desired to refer. He had said that the country might think, after all, that the Government was not in earnest with regard to this Resolution. They had heard a good deal in the course of the debate from hon. Members who had said that "obstruction was a thing which must be put down, and that they had got one step further in the desired direction, and that, as a whole, they approved of the proposal which the Government had brought forward." Those hon. Members then proceeded by what they called "friendly criticism" to draw, as the common phrase went, a great many red herrings across the path of the Government. He did not like 1666 that general praise and general persistent criticism which prevented your getting to the end proposed; he would much rather have open opposition. With regard to the question they were discussing, as to whether everything relating to the suspension of a Member should be left in the hands of Mr. Speaker, he thought the matter had been properly put before the House by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). The Speaker, noticing an hon. Member offending, would form his own judgment and name the Member; the question would then be put to the House in order that suspension might follow. Could the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) suppose that the present Speaker, or any other Speaker whose impartiality was to be depended upon, would call a Member to Order under such circumstances that, when it came to be put to the House whether his sentence was to be carried out, the question would be decided by a Party vote? Such a Motion would never be brought before the House by Mr. Speaker unless he knew, as a matter of absolute certainty, that the division would not be a Party one. He believed that what had been stated by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham was perfectly true—that when the Speaker had named a Member the judgment of the House would have more effect upon that Member who had been called to Order, as well as upon the country, than it would have had had it been recorded as the judgment of the Speaker only.
§ MR. SHAW
said, that, so far as he could judge, the Amendment had been discussed in a very business-like manner. He could safely say that if some time ago the Government had shown any disposition to yield upon this point, he had intended to appeal to his hon. Friend to withdraw his other Amendments in order that Business might be facilitated; but the Government seemed to have made up its mind, and to be determined not to yield upon the question. He was sure that the House required further time for the consideration of this matter. There were two questions before the House—one was as to an offence committed in the House, and the other as to an offence committed while in Committee of the Whole House. In the first case, there could be no difficulty in leaving 1667 the entire decision to the Speaker; but as to an offence committed while the Chairman of Committees was in the Chair a very different question was raised. That was the real difficulty. The Chairman of Committees, when sitting in the Chair, might name some hon. Member for committing an offence, and his decision was to be taken without appeal. He had to report the case to the Speaker when the House was formed, and then the Speaker was to give the hon. Member 10 minutes to explain, and then was to call upon the House to come to a decision. That proceeding took away, therefore, the absolute decision from the Chairman, and was as much for his own protection as for anything else. He would be accused of acting from Party spirit were the procedure of appealing to the House not given to him. He threw out this suggestion as a possible means of compromise for the Government to adopt.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, that if anything like a fair opportunity of explanation, or a fair opportunity of obtaining a reliable judgment from the House was provided, then he should be prepared to admit that his Amendment providing for the attendance of 100 Members was absurd. But the Government Resolution, as it stood, permitted everything to be done without notice and without explanation; and it seemed to him that it was absolutely necessary to provide for th6 presence of a full quorum throughout. If his Amendment was therefore monstrous, it was only monstrous in consequence of the monstrosity of the proposition which rendered it necessary. He had listened with the greatest pain to the apparent efforts of hon. Members opposite to attach Party significance to the question of Order, which he thought ought to be the property of the House. He was the most uninfluential Member of the House; but he had confidence not only in the public attention of Ireland, but in that of England, and he could assure the Government that if they took up an attitude of imputing improper motives to their opponents on that side of the House he would make them un- 1668 derstand what could be done by the opposition of men who did not respect them.
§ Question put, andagreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do take the Chair To-morrow, at Twelve of the clock."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. CALLAN
said, that Irish Members were mostly in business, and that it was inconvenient for them to attend so early as 12 o'clock. He should suggest that it would facilitate Business if the House were to meet at 2 o'clock.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that he would point out to the hon. Member that, according to the ordinary practice, when the House sat on Saturdays, it always met at 12 o'clock.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he would ask whether he would be in Order in moving that the House should meet at 2 instead of 12. It was most unusual for the House in the first month of the Session to sit on Saturdays.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the hon. Member would be in Order in making the Motion he proposed; but the course was very unusual.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, it was a very unusual circumstance for the House to sit at all on a Saturday in the first month of the Session; and, notwithstanding that the course he was about to take was unusual, he should make the Motion.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "Twelve," and insert the word "Two."—(Mr. Callan.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'Twelve' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, that it would be a fair compromise to Irish Members to allow the House to sit at 2 o'clock. It was just as well to make some concession to the convenience of hon. Members opposite. He did not think that English Gentlemen would wish to carry the debate through by inconveniencing their opponents.
§ Question put.
§ The Housedivided:—Ayes 87; Noes 15: Majority 72.—(Div. List, No. 24.)
§ Main Question put.
§ Resolved,That Mr. Speaker do take the Chair To-morrow, at Twelve of the clock.