§ [ADJOURNED DEBATE.] [THIRTY-
Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Main Question [28th November],
That two Standing Committees be appointed for the consideration of all Bills relating to Law and Courts of Justice, and to Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures, which may be committed to them respectively.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he proposed to insert, in line 1, after the word "two," the words "or more." The object of the Amendment was to extend the operation of the Resolution by enabling more than two Standing Committees to be appointed. He should not have voted for the Resolution had he not believed that these Standing Committees would give great facility for the transaction of Public Business. He had long been convinced, ever since he had had a seat in the House, that it was impossible for 650 Members sitting together in the House of Commons to do the whole details of the work of the Three Kingdoms. He believed that this Resolution so extended would be the most important reform effected in connection with these discussions on Procedure. It seemed to him that the objections to the principles of the Resolution were very much due to its composition. He believed the effect of the Resolutions would be to accelerate those changes which had been taking place in the composition of the House, so that they should more and more have men of leisure and special capacity for Parliamentary work. He hoped that henceforth Membership of that House would depend more upon brains than upon what an eminent statesman under whom he had served termed "guts," or what 316 he might perhaps more properly describe as interior economy. What he desired especially to secure by this Amendment was the principle of territorial division of work, as distinguished from division by subjects as contained in the Resolution before the House. His hope was that if they had a Committee of that kind in regard to Scotch Business, in which there should be a very large infusion of Scotch Members, while they should also have the assistance of English and Irish Members, it would not only benefit Scotland, but would benefit the affairs of the whole Kingdom, because they would see how admirably the work would be done, and the other parts of the United Kingdom would be induced to adopt the same system, and they would arrive at a solution of this question. An hon. Member had, in the course of the debate, asked how the House was to be made aware of the motives which influenced the decision of the Committees. The practice in the United States was for the Chairman to make the best report in writing of the proceedings that he could, and submit it to the House. He believed that plan would work well if introduced here. He agreed with the Prime Minister that in the constitution of these Committees due regard should be paid to the composition of the House. He had been considerably influenced, in bringing forward this Amendment, by the satisfactory results of the Saturday Sittings held last Summer for the transaction of Scottish Business. These were really, in point of fact, Grand Committees of the kind which he proposed, because most of the English and Irish Members had absented themselves from these discussions. He admitted that this question had not been agitated in Scotland; the question, indeed, had not been submitted to the people of Scotland, who, of course, knew very little about the details of Procedure in that House. He knew the Conservative Members for Scotland were very much opposed to this idea, because they imagined they would always be left in a minority. But he thought if they would try this system their fears would be found to have been very much exaggerated. He appealed to them whether the result of those Saturday Sittings had not been that they discussed the Business before them in no Party spirit, almost everything of 317 that sort being entirely eliminated from their proceedings. As a Scotch Member, he did not complain of any evil influence exercised by English and Irish Members on Scotch legislation. But as the House was constituted, they did not get a chance of discussing Scottish Business as it ought to be discussed. He wished to dispel the illusion, which he found to be almost ingrained in the minds of English Members, that Scottish Members settled their affairs in the Tea Room. He had had a seat in the House in two Parliaments, and he had not during that time known a single instance of a Scotch Bill being settled in the Tea Room. What had happened in regard to Scotch Bills was, that they had been entirely precluded from discussing them either in Committee or in the House, and it had been a case of taking a Bill as it stood, or going without it altogether. Under these circumstances, they had a claim to some reconstitution of that House, under which they should have an opportunity of fairly and freely considering measures relating to Scotland. It was not his intention to suggest that there should be a Grand Committee for Ireland as well as for Scotland. In his opinion the cases were entirely different. The different legal system prevalent in Scotland to England and Ireland required separate legislation, and justified the appointment of a Grand Committee to consider her wants. But in the case of Ireland many difficulties existed which did not occur in that of Scotland. Should, however, some system of local self-government such as the Prime Minister had indicated be devised for Ireland, he saw no reason why it should not be fairly considered by the House. He believed that no free Government could succeed which was too much centralized. The great point was that in Scotland they had laws and institutions radically different from the rest of the United Kingdom. The objection, however, to this territorial division of the work was that it would only be the beginning of Home Rule. He did not see why they should not adopt a useful Rule for that reason. The hon. Gentleman was proceeding to discuss the question of Home Rule, when——
§ THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. LYON PLAYFAIR)
I must point out to the hon. Member that he is going far beyond the Question.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
, resuming, said, all he submitted was, that the most effective answer which had been made to his proposal was that it would lead to Home Rule. He contended that it would not necessarily lead to Home Rule; but he should still be prepared for the adoption of a modified Home Rule such as he himself would wish to see—not the separation of the three Kingdoms or the establishment in Ireland or Scotland of a form of Government such as they had in Canada, but a modified Home Rule.
§ THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. LYON PLAYFAIR)
The hon. Member is discussing a Question which is really not before the House.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
proceeded to submit that, if the Grand Committees which he proposed succeeded, they might afterwards localize them, and the Grand Committees might sit at Edinburgh and report the result of their deliberations to the House. He hoped the Government would see their way to adopt his proposal.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1, after the word "two," to insert the words "or more."—(Sir George Campbell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'or more' stand part of the Question."
Sir, I do not think it is necessary for me to follow my hon. Friend at large in the discussion into which he has entered with so much fulness and ability. The hon. Member is entitled to take to himself the description qui gemino bellum trojanum orditur ab ovo, and he has been equally courageous in traversing the future and the past. But these questions, Sir, which he has opened up overwhelm me, I own, at the present period of the year and of the Session. But I still hope they will bear, at any rate, an adjournment. I think my hon. Friend has, in one respect, omitted to take into view the position of the Government when he says he hopes we shall be able to entertain favourably this proposal. I do not at all deny that there may be very much to be said for a proposal for the extension of the plan which Her Majesty's Government have proposed. Perhaps if I were master of this affair—if it were a thing to be settled like an establishment in a Government 319 office of which I happened to be the head—I should be prepared to go a step or two farther than we have gone in the proposals before us; but our duty is to regulate the proposals we make in this House, not according to our own, perhaps, over-sanguine anticipations, but what we may fairly ask the general mind of the House to adopt. That is the measure by which we determine the limits of the proposal now before the House. My hon. Friend will see that, that having been the original principle upon which we proceeded, I should not, even after a complete process of conversion and conviction, be in a condition to act on the suggestion he has made, because in submitting these Resolutions to the House I was most careful to dwell upon their most strict limitations in point of subject, in point of number, and in point of their duration. Therefore it would be, on my part and on the part of my Colleagues, a breach of faith towards the House if after having obtained, as we did last night, the assent of a large majority of the House to the principle of dealing with these Resolutions on the basis we had previously described, we thereafter entertained a proposal for largely extending the basis of our plan. I think my hon. Friend will see that from our position we are not free to enter upon a discussion of that kind, but that good faith towards the House, as well as the sound policy on which we have proceeded, binds me not to adhere to the boundaries which I described in making the original proposal.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he fully shared the disinclination of the Prime Minister to enter at that period of the year into a debate upon Home Rule for Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and possibly in the future England, and ultimately the Metropolis. He was, however, bound to say that, having regard to the speech with which the right hon. Gentleman opened the question of Standing Committees, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) had some justification for the course he had pursued. He trusted that during the day the Prime Minister would explain to the House the precise meaning of one sentence in his opening speech. The right hon. Gentleman had recommended Standing Committees to the House in very remarkable words. The right hon. Gentleman had said— 320Nay, more; not only are we becoming now a nation of very large population moving onwards to our 40,000,000, and likely to attain it before the end of the present century, but we are a nation broken up locally also into various divisions, with some degree of various wants and specialities—a circumstance which we are beginning to recognize in different parts of the country.He wished to call attention to the obvious spirit and meaning of those sentences, which were clearly in the direction of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. If it were true, as a matter of fact, that the Scottish system of jurisprudence was totally different from the law of England and the rest of the country, and if they were told that this system of Standing Committees was, in some mysterious but unexplained way, to facilitate the consideration of specialities of Scottish law, then he thought he was right in saying that the Standing Committees as proposed by the Government would not, in the slightest degree, effect that object. On the contrary, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy would be justified in complaining that, under this system, special Scottish law questions would be far less well-considered than on the floor of the House under the existing system, for the reason that the Standing Committees were to be appointed to consider the laws of the country generally, and it was not likely that the 60 or 80 Members who were to be appointed on them would have any particular knowledge of Scotch or Irish law. That being the case, the effect would be that when Scottish law questions were referred to them, the Scottish Members would be very few in number, and they would be overwhelmed by English, and Irish, and Welsh Members. He could not, therefore, see how the Prime Minister could commend this system of Standing Committees, as he proposed, to the Representatives of the different nationalities, as affording them a better chance than they had now of having the specialities of their respective countries better considered. Therefore, he, for one, was not surprised that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had taken this opportunity of pressing that view on the attention of the House at that inconvenient period. He sincerely hoped that before those debates were concluded the right hon. Gentleman would give a distinct repudiation to the views expressed by the 321 hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, and express his concurrence with the opinions enunciated last night with so much force and power by the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen). He should certainly give his support to the Government in resistance to the hon. Member's Amendment.
said, he presumed that as the noble Lord had quoted from a former speech of his in the debate he was entitled to make an explanation. The noble Lord had not taken into account the tenour of his speech. He (Mr. Gladstone), in that portion of the speech quoted by the noble Lord, had been arguing on the general increase of the Business of the House, and his remarks stood in no relation whatever to the subject of a reference to Grand Committees. The noble Lord had stated reasons why Bills affecting Scotch law might not properly be referred to these Committees. Whether that was so or not, his (Mr. Gladstone's) speech referred to the increase of the Business of the House, and to the fact that such increase was greater and more rapid because, while we were a very populous country, we were not a homogeneous country with respect to law, but had to provide for the wants of several distinct portions of the country in a different manner. And he thought it was quite obvious that his meaning was that, by the institution of these Standing Committees, a great portion of the work of the House of Commons would be removed from it, and that it would thus be left free to do other work, while local measures introduced into the House would have a better chance of fair and full discussion. It would have been absurd to have made any connection, and he made no connection, between these local measures and Grand Committees.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, it was alleged that what the Government had done by these New Rules would give hopes that the House would be able to discharge the duties which came before them; but he would remind the House that long before any serious Obstruction was known, the House was unable to discharge those duties satisfactorily, and many years ago Select Committees were appointed to inquire what alterations could be made. He could point to Bills of great value which had been before them year after year, and could not be 322 passed for want of time. The late Government proposed to introduce a Valuation Bill, a measure of the highest importance; but, owing to the stress of Business, it was found impossible to introduce it. It was, however, not surprising that the Government proposal had, to some extent, been misunderstood; because, although it was a revival of an ancient usage on a reformed basis, yet it contained a great deal that was new. He was prepared to accept that proposal as a step in the right direction, and as being as much as the Government in the circumstances could prudently bring forward. But he would have preferred a system which would have comprehended the whole House, leaving out no Member—that the whole House should be divided into panels, each being a perfectly true miniature of the House itself, with power to add, in respect of special measures, a certain number of Members who might be classed as experts having special knowledge, specially to advocate certain views. He admitted, however, that the Government could not at present propose anything so large with the least chance of its being accepted by the House. He was willing, therefore, to see the present scheme tried and tested by experience. At the same time, he was of opinion that the limitation of the proposal operated to its disadvantage. It might give rise to jealousy—not on the part of individual Members, but on the part of constituencies which, knowing the business capacity and aptitude of their Members, would feel some disappointment that their Representatives were not placed upon those Committees. By adopting the system which he would have preferred, every section and Party of the House would be fully represented in proportion to the actual constitution of the House for the time being. These Committees were intended to mould legislation. How would such a body be content to find itself on a bare equality with the minority that had been defeated at the poll? Another difficulty in this scheme was with regard to the time of the Sittings of the Committee. In dealing with public matters, it was only reasonable and proper that the Committees should sit in public time—that was, in the time devoted to Public Business, and not to private legislation. If the House should, after trying the scheme in a tentative manner, find it answer, they might 323 hope to see it enlarged. The difficulties and limitations were so great that he would like to see the experiment tried oven on a small scale. With regard to the constitution of the Committees, he cordially accepted what was stated by his right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) last night. The Resolution, if properly looked at, did really intend that the Committees should be representative. If the House looked at the Amendment which stood on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, and that put upon the Paper by the Prime Minister, it was manifest that it was intended the Committees should be a miniature of the House. The Committees would consist of a certain number of experts, just as in Committee of the Whole House Members were always present who were specially qualified to speak upon the subject under discussion. Another point was this—whether anything might be expected from these Committees which could not be obtained at present. What happened at present was this—When a Committee of the Whole House was engaged on a Bill it could not be referred back to the draftsman. He had known clauses passed by Committee before the ink was dry. No wonder, therefore, that under such a process blunders should be numerous. A Standing Committee, on the other hand, would be more master of its time, and would adjourn the attendance of special experts—as, for instance, the draftsman of the Bill. They had fallen into a bad system of drafting Bills. A Bill was now drawn with as little law and as much reference to other Statutes as possible, so that it required a good lawyer, with a good library at his back, to interpret it. They should have a Committee which could devote more time to the discussion and elaboration of a Bill. He believed that a good deal of the opposition manifested to this measure really arose from a misunderstanding as to the constitution of the Committees. But there could be no objection to them if they were a miniature of the House. Then the idea seemed to prevail that this was the thin end of the wedge, and part and parcel of a set of Rules designed for the purpose of forcing measures through the House without discussion. He was sure hon. Members were quite mistaken in this surmise, and 324 he regretted deeply if, either in or out of the House, the faintest colour had ever been given to such an idea. He had not words to express how repugnant to his mind was this idea. Obstruction of the most violent kind would be a venial offence, as compared with thrusting measures through the House without affording an opportunity for fair discussion. This would strike at the very life of Parliament. It meant this—to transfer elsewhere the powers, the duties, and the responsibilities discharged in that House. He, for one, was not prepared to surrender these powers, duties, and responsibilities. He was aware of the doctrine that measures were discussed out-of-doors on the platform and in the Press so fully that it was scarcely necessary to discuss them in that House; but he did not believe a word of it. He did not undervalue the power of the platform or of the Press; but who that possessed even the shortest experience of Parliamentary life did not know how very different an aspect a question were when presented on the platform or in the Press, and when it came to be submitted to the conflict of opposing Parties in that House? The grain was then separated from the husk, and the wheat from the chaff. In his opinion, the appointment of these Grand Committees would practically double the time of the House, and he confessed that he was in favour of the limited proposal of the Government. A short experience of these Grand Committees would probably remove many of the fears which were now entertained with regard to them by hon. Members opposite; and the principle they embodied might be extended by a kind of natural growth, and with the full approbation of the House, without which he should be sorry to see them continue in operation. He should wish to see that House continue to be in the future what it had been in the past—the High Court to which the greatest and the humblest of Her Majesty's subjects might resort for the redress of their grievances, the critic of every act of the Executive, either at home or abroad, while, at the same time, it modelled the legislation necessary to meet the requirements of this great Empire.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, that the most interesting and valuable speech of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whit- 325 bread), to which they had just listened, suggested considerations which appeared to demand more time for their examination than they were likely to obtain during the short remainder of the present Session; and he could not help regretting that that speech had not been delivered in the course of the debate which closed last night. The hon. Member had referred to the arguments which had been used out-of-doors in favour of these Resolutions. It had been urged out-of-doors, not only in favour of the appointment of these Standing Committees, but in support of the whole of the Rules of Procedure as proposed by the Government, that it would, enable the Ministers to force through Parliament measures which they could not reasonably hope to pass without them. [Mr. MONK: Where has it been stated?] It had been so stated out-of-doors, and it was so believed out-of-doors, and that statement was believed to be accurate by the Members of the Opposition. ["No!"] He was surprised that the hon. Member opposite should profess to understand more than the Members of the Opposition what were their own opinions on the subject.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
remarked that he had said "No!" to the observation of the right hon. Gentleman that that phrase had been used out-of-doors by the Members of the Liberal Party.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
repeated, that it had been distinctly stated by prominent Members of the Liberal Party, and especially by the hon. Baronet the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, at Chelsea, that the great object of pushing forward these Rules was that the House might be turned into a Bill-spinning machine, and that measures might be passed through the House more rapidly, and without the consideration which they deserved. ["No!"] He had been glad, under these circumstances, to hear from the hon. Member for Bedford so eloquent, forcible, and Constitutional a protest against any attempt being made in that direction. It was clear that if Bills of importance were sent up to those Standing Committees, the Members of the House who were excluded from the discussion of such Bills in Committee would deem it their duty to examine their details very carefully during their subsequent stages. He believed there would be great difficulty experienced in 326 carrying out this scheme; and, in his opinion, it had not been defined sufficiently in the Resolution. There were now from four to six Select Committees to which special subjects were referred, and whose labours were found to be of great assistance to the House. He should, however, like to know whether the Government proposed to exclude from these Standing Committees all those Members who were selected to serve upon Select Committees. Then, were these Standing Committees to be subject to the Rules that regulated the proceedings of Select Committees? Were they, for instance, to have the power of calling witnesses? He agreed that Bills were passed through the House now in an unsatisfactory manner; but there was another way out of the difficulty than that proposed by the Government—namely, to obtain a report from the official draftsman as to the effect of the alterations which were made in Committee. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) spoke about the appointment of a Committee for the consideration of measures relating to Scotland. If that right were to be given they would have the same demand made by Members from Wales and from Cornwall; and he himself would demand that there should be a Standing Committee of Metropolitan Members which would consider measures relating to the Metropolis. If they adopted this system where would they find themselves? They would go back to the condition of the Heptarchy, and they would no longer have the authority of a United Parliament for the Three Kingdoms. It would be a great misfortune if they did anything to interfere with, or lessen the authority of, the Imperial Parliament. Their object should be to consolidate rather than separate the interests of the country. They had heard a great deal in the debate about the division of labour. He failed to see how it would be possible to get much more work out of the House of Commons by any means so long as the work was carried on on the present lines. About 300 Members in the House took an active interest in legislation. How could they expect those Members to attend from 12 to 4, and then attend the Sittings of the House from 4 until, perhaps, 1 or 2 in the morning? The work done in Committee in that manner 327 would, he believed, be practically of little value. As at present suggested, the proposal of the Government was fraught with difficulty and danger; and he thought they were entitled to further time in order that the subject might be more fully and properly considered.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he did not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman through the speech he had just delivered, as it appeared to relate to the question which was disposed of yesterday rather than to that then before them. He rose because the right hon. Gentleman, before he came in, had alluded very pointedly to himself, or rather to a speech which he had made. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to have charged him with saying that the real reason for forcing forward and insisting on these reforms was that measures might be passed as through a spinning-machine, without the consideration they had hitherto received. He wished to give the most emphatic denial to that statement. He had never stated anything of the kind.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he did not charge the hon. Gentleman with saying that they wished to pass measures as through a spinning-machine—those were his own words; but he said that the hon. Baronet had referred to these Rules, and advocated them as necessary in order to pass certain measures through the House.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
repeated that he had said nothing at all about passing Bills without sufficient consideration. The charge, then, was reduced to this—namely, that he said these reforms were desirable in order to pass measures through the House That appeared to be no charge at all. Everybody was agreed that the object of these reforms was to pass measures through the House of Commons. As a matter of fact, he believed that the effect of the Resolutions would be that measures would receive much more consideration than had hitherto been the case. Let them take the cases of those Bills which did and did not pass last Session. The Municipal Corporations Bill, which did pass, was a most complicated measure, and was only allowed to pass by 328 the permission of hon. Gentlemen at a very late hour of the night. As regarded those Bills which did not pass, the Criminal Code was a Bill on the desirableness of which they were all agreed; but if it were to be passed at all without Standing Committees, it could only be passed by a sort of understanding on both sides that there was to be no discussion. The Patents Bill and the Bankruptcy Bill were also measures which could not pass with proper consideration unless sent to such a Committee. He only rose for the purpose of protesting against a grievous misconstruction of his language by the right hon. Gentleman; and, having done so, he would no longer detain the House.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that the Amendment before the House, proposed by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), showed that, in his opinion, the arrangement proposed by Her Majesty's Government in these Resolutions was insufficient. In other respects he (Mr. Newdegate) could not concur in the opinions which the hon. Gentleman had expressed, because he was utterly averse to anything that approached Home Rule, either for Scotland or for Ireland. His creed enjoined the maintenance of the Trinity in Unity of the British Constitution. He had heard the speech of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) with gratification. He had served with that hon. Member on successive Committees on Public Business, and it was a misfortune that subsequent Committees had never made their recommendations sufficiently specific since the Committee of 1861, which virtually established the present order of proceeding on Fridays. He looked with great suspicion upon this proposal to delegate the authority of the House. In this he agreed with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. His own opinion was that the most important subject, and the most legitimate, which a Grand Committee could be employed upon, had been omitted from the Resolutions. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury was present in his place, and he remembered the words the right hon. Gentleman spoke in 1873, when the right hon. Gentleman commented upon the confusion in the Business of the House, and declared that this was owing to the insufficient order of Procedure in the House. 329 The right hon. Gentleman said that such was the confusion of the Order Book, that there was a perpetual jostling between independent Members and the Government as to whose Orders should be considered even on the day appropriated to the Bills of private Members. He (Mr. Newdegate) thought the right hon. Gentleman would not deny that he expressed that opinion forcibly in 1873. He would not, therefore, say more than that he as thoroughly agreed now with the right hon. Gentleman as he had done when he first uttered that opinion; and he would ask, why was the House to be thus incapacitated? In 1875 he (Mr. Newdegate) proposed three Resolutions on this subject. The first proposal embodied a recommendation of the Committee on Public Business, which sat in 1871—That no Member should be allowed to introduce a Bill unless he stated orally, or in writing or in print, not merely the object of the Bill, but the means he proposed for attaining that object, unless by leave of the House. The second proposal was to adopt a Standing Order similar to that long since adopted by the House of Lords at the instance of Lord Redesdale, that no Member should be entitled, except by leave of the House, to appoint or to postpone a Bill or Order beyond or for more than a month. The third proposal was that before Whitsuntide in each Session the House should review the state of the Order Book, and decide what Motions or Bills it would proceed to consider, and thus regain command of its time during the remainder of the Session. These proposals had reference to Bills or Orders of non-official Members only. He (Mr. Newdegate) had, since 1875, seen the confusion of the Business of the House greatly increase, and the result of this confusion was to produce universal dissatisfaction, and the generation of that system of Questions, which he held to be utterly unworthy of the House. He held, therefore, that from the objects which were contemplated by the Resolutions they omitted the most important; in one sense he agreed with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, that the Resolutions were insufficient; but he differed from him as to what was lacking. The House needed another Committee; a Committee not for Scotch Bills, but a Grand Committee to supervise the Order Book 330 of the House, in his opinion, before Easter, but certainly before Whitsuntide, to report upon what measures and in what order the Business of the House, as described in its Orders, should be taken. By that means they would increase the capacity of the House to deal with a greater variety of subjects by legislation, and provide for the due consideration of a larger number of Orders. Acting upon the Report of such a Grand Committee, the House would effect a division of its labour, restore its own efficiency, and possibly render unnecessary the system of delegation to which so many objections had justly been urged. Some of these objections appeared to be felt by no one more forcibly than by the hon. Member for Bedford. He (Mr. Newdegate) had indicated a better way of meeting the difficulties of the House, but did not wish to make over again the speech which he made in 1875; still, after what had since happened, and looking at the position in which the House at present stood, he felt strongly that the proposals which he then made for the regulation of the Business of the independent Members of the House ought to be extended, as they were urgently needed, and urgently needed for the Governmental Business as well as for that of individual Members. He was aware that he was trenching upon dangerous ground. Of late years it seemed to have come to be allowed that the Leader of the House, perhaps with the collusion or consent of the Leader of the Opposition, had a monopoly in the arrangement of the Order Book. It rested with the Leader of the House, acting in some degree with the Leader of the Opposition, to decide the order of the Business of the House. He (Mr. Newdegate) thought this monopoly was being carried too far. That statement might excite some jealousy, but he was convinced that it was well-founded, The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury could not claim to have originated the Resolutions now before the House. He (Mr. Newdegate) had heard them proposed in substance more than once in Committees on Public Business, and especially before the Committee on Public Business in 1878; for the Resolutions before the House were but the embodiment of the recommendations contained in the evidence 331 of Sir Thomas Erskine May, and he admitted that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was quite justified in respecting the authority of Sir Thomas May; for, since Hatsell, no other had been so distinguished in describing the character of the proceedings, the constitution, and the Business of the House. His book was a text-book. He (Mr. Newdegate) desired, however, to call the attention of the House to the fact that, although he had known these proposals submitted to several Committees on Public Business, by no Committee on Public Business had they been adopted. The authorship of the Resolutions rested, therefore, between the distinguished officer of the House whom he had mentioned as the originator, and the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. Were all the Committees on Public Business since 1861 wrong in failing to recommend those Resolutions to the House? They had been submitted, he believed, to every one of them, and by every one rejected, because the Committees were of opinion, with the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) and himself, that it was totally impossible to constitute a Grand Committee that should exactly represent the House in all the variety of its qualities and all the variety of its opinions. But there might be a Committee appointed, not to decide the stages of Bills, not to be substituted for the stage of Committee of the Whole House, and so to become a delegation armed with positive power, whose decision was not to be reviewed by the House upon Report; for such was the substance of these Resolutions as they stood, and there would be no stage between the second and third reading of a Bill, unless the House exceptionally interposed. Now, that was an amount of power that he thought would be unsafe for the House to delegate to any Committee without further consideration. He was, however, anxious to impress upon the House that from these Resolutions was omitted that which, in his opinion, and in the opinion of the House of Lords—for they bad a Committee, and armed their Chairman with the power of reviewing the Order Book before Whitsuntide—he repeated that from those Resolutions was omitted one object the accomplishment of which would do more to revive the efficiency of the House than any- 332 thing not excepting the suppression of obstructive and abusive delays, for which provision was made by other Orders. The appointment of these Grand Committees was meant for questions of law, of trade, and other objects; but Her Majesty's Government had at their command the Grandest Committee in the world. Why, he asked, did they introduce so few measures of uncontentious character in the House of Lords? There was to be found the highest legal talent. What could be a more fitting Court than the House of Lords? Where, on all questions of law, could they find superior advice or authority? They were told that they were to refer to those Grand Committees merely non-political and non-party questions—that was to say, they were not to refer to them Business which excited controversies in the country. For this task the House of Lords was eminently adapted. In what Grand Committee was to be found knowledge and other qualities equal to those which the House of Lords possessed for the discussion of such subjects? He felt the force of the objection that if these proposed Grand Committees were to be really efficient, particularly upon questions of law, they must not sit during the Sittings of the House. But there was another objection; these Grand Committees ought not to sit during the sittings of the Courts in Westminster Hall; for that would be tantamount to the exclusion of men of the highest legal talent in the House. It was impossible to avoid falling into one or other of these difficulties. He (Mr. Newdegate) thought the whole system of delegation dangerous, and yet as proposed that it was insufficient, and that the most important object to be attained in order to restore the efficiency of the House had been omitted—namely, the supervision before Easter, and again the supervision before Whitsuntide, of the state of the Order Book of the House; and this might be effected without empowering the delegated authority to exclude any of the Orders, but by authorizing it simply to point out to the House itself what Orders need not be proceeded with, and this with a view to the more deliberate consideration of those Bills or Orders which might be worthy of the legislation. He had been anxious to be allowed to address these few observations to the House, because it was no new subject with him. 333 The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister pointed to the necessity for rearrangement in 1873, and in 1875 he (Mr. Newdegate) brought forward proposals with reference to the non-Ministerial Orders on the Book. The right hon. Gentleman now admitted that the arrangement of Ministerial Orders was likewise in need of supervision. In his individual capacity as an independent Member of the House, he (Mr. Newdegate) would not venture to propose any Amendments, because he did not know that the Leaders of the Opposition would give them their sanction. In 1875, when he proposed Resolutions, the late Lord Beaconsfield, in courteous and respectful terms, declined to give them his support; but if Lord Beaconsfield were now alive, judging from what he then said, he believed that he would not treat those proposals as he had done in 1875, on the ground that the difficulties of the House were not such as to demand such remedies.
said, those who had listened to some of the speeches made, and who remembered that the Question before the House was the insertion of the words "or more" in the Resolution, must come to the conclusion that the speeches were prepared for delivery on the Amendment which was before the House last night, and were spoken today simply because the opportunity presented itself. He should attempt to go back to the immediate Question before the House. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) proposed to leave room for the increase of the number of Grand Committees for the purpose of subsequently moving the appointment of Territorial Committees instead of the Grand Committees. That proposal was made in order to insert afterwards a provision that a Committee should be appointed to deal specially with Scotch Bills. He believed that if the Scotch Members were canvassed they would not find half-a-dozen who were in favour of that proposal. The reason given for the proposal was that it would save the time which the House gave to the consideration of those subjects. What would be the time which would be saved? It would be positively inappreciable. During the whole of the nine Sessions he had been in Parliament he did not remember any single Scotch Bill which occupied more than 334 one day in the Committee stage, with the exception, perhaps, of the Roads and Bridges Bill, which took two or three; so that, even supposing they had the Scotch Grand Committee, it would have nothing to do, and would effect no saving of the time of the House. What was the constitution he proposed for them? He did not propose that the Committee for the consideration of Scotch Bills should be exclusively composed of Scotch Representatives, but that it should consist in a large proportion—probably half of its Representatives—made up from other parts of the Kingdom. How would that work? How did the present system work? Whenever there was much difference of opinion among Scotch Members as to the details of any Scotch Bills, either they got a Morning Sitting or a Saturday Sitting, or made some arrangement by which they could discuss the question at length, and then any person who took an interest in the subject might join in the discussion, and the remainder of the House was at liberty to occupy itself as it chose. On those occasions, with the exception of such omnivorous Members as the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton), or possibly the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), the Scotch Members were generally left to themselves. When the discussion of a Scotch subject came before the House any Scotch Members who chose could take part in the discussion; but if they adopted the arrangement proposed by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), the result would be this. A Grand Committee would consist of about 80 Members, of whom about half would be other than Scotch Members, and the result would be that only 40 Scotch Members would be included, while some 25 or 26 remaining Scotch Members would be altogether excluded from the discussion of Scotch subjects in Committee. He thought that in itself was quite sufficient ground for scouting the proposal. It had been pointed out again and again that there were difficulties in the Scotch laws which rendered it most desirable that they should be considered by persons who understood something about them. That was an indisputable proposition; but that was met at present by a simple method. Any Bill requiring much consideration 335 in detail was referred to a Select Committee, and a large proportion of Scotch Members were put on that Committee. Practically those who were not Scotch Members took very little part in the proceedings. The whole thing was thoroughly thrashed out; and, as a rule, when Scotch Bills ran the gauntlet of a Select Committee, they were very seldom challenged when they came back to the House. If any Scotch Member took a particular interest in a Bill, as far as his experience went, the Member had only to intimate his desire to be placed on the Committee for that desire to be acceded to. He thought there were other and more tangible grounds for rejecting the proposal of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy than merely those of expediency and want of time to discuss it. He, however, would not pretend to occupy the time of the House by going in any further detail into the matter; but having said what he had, he thought he had said enough to show that the proposal was quite untenable, and should, therefore, be rejected.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, they could not regard the Amendment before the House without considering the consequences contemplated by it, and also without regard to the decision which the House came to on Tuesday night, which, he understood, practically settled the question that there should be two Grand Committees. [Sir R. AASSHETON CROSS dissented.] At any rate, it had gone a long way in that direction, and he did not consider himself at liberty to reopen the question of two Grand Committees. A considerable step had been made by the decision to which the House had already come. There had been a good deal of discussion on this subject, including a most valuable contribution from the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). He (Mr. Gregory) regretted that that speech was not made before the House came to its vote on Tuesday, for a good deal of what the hon. Gentleman had said would have considerable weight with the Members who sat on the same side of the House with him. The other part of the discussion had not been altogether favourable to the scheme proposed by the Government. Whether there was time for them now to reconsider that scheme, or whether they would avail themselves of the suggestions which had been thrown out 336 for that purpose, he did not know; but he feared that after Tuesday's vote it was too late to re-open the question. He entertained all the objections which he stated at the time to the appointment of these two Committees, and he did not see how they could possibly be worked. They would land the House in several difficulties. There was the impossibility of drawing any line on which to work these Committees. There would also be very great difficulty with respect to the Members who were to serve on them. If they were to have a Grand Committee for legal Bills, to which all legal Bills would be sent, it would be composed of legal Members of the House. How were those Members to sit on a group of 18 or 20 Bills? It would take them a great part of the Session, and it would be necessary for the Committee to have the co-operation of the Law Officers of the Crown. If that was to be the case, the Now Courts of Justice would see little of them, and their clients would have little of their assistance while the House was sitting. There were other objections to the scheme. Statements had been made against it which the Government had disputed; but they had been renewed that morning with great effect. He also regretted the selection that had been made for the operation of the Committees. Far too wide a scope had been taken for what was professedly on the part of the Government an experiment. The Committees were to embrace the whole of the subjects of law, commerce, and manufactures. It would be evident to everyone what a very wide branch of legislation was comprised in those terms. He regretted that this should be made a matter of experiment at all. He only hoped that the selection of the Committees would not be made on the principle of fiat experimentum in corpore villi, for he objected to law topics being comprised in that classification, and he objected altogether to its being made a subject of experiment. But as the Government had proposed the experiment, and the House had voted in its favour, he should be disposed to leave the working out of the experiment to the Government. Let them frame the details, and the House would see how the scheme would work. Let not the House attempt to interfere with the scheme or propose a counter-scheme, but leave the Government entirely responsible for it. Let 337 them work it out in their own way, and then it would be seen how it worked. He believed that his anticipations would be verified by the result, and that the result would be on the responsibility of the Government.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
considered that the Government had acted wisely in adhering to their original limitations. To have opened up the question raised by the hon. Member would have been to open the door to almost every suggestion that could possibly be made. He admitted fully the objections that had been argued on the other side against the proposal that had been submitted to the House by the Government; but they were difficulties which equally belonged to the present system. The proposals of the Government would not increase those difficulties, but would rather, he hoped, diminish them. The proposals were of a kind which he should be unwilling to support, if it were not that they had come to a block in the Business of the House, which rendered it important that some arrangement should be made which would enable them to get through their Business. For that reason, he lent his cordial support to the proposition of the Government in the limited form in which it was proposed, and as an experiment. Assuming that the difficulties connected with the formation of these Committees would be overcome, he thought the improvement that would be brought about would go far to remove many of the objections that had been felt. He would suggest that these Committees should be enabled to meet as early in the Session as possible, and that they should be open to reporters, so that the public should understand what was going on, and so that they should not have to fight the whole thing over again. While he cordially supported the proposal of the Government on the grounds he had stated, he deprecated, in the strongest degree, the proposal brought forward by his hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell). If he did not know his hon. Friend, he should have supposed that his proposition was one hostile to that of the Government. But he deprecated the proposal on stronger grounds; he objected to the provincialism of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. As a Scottish Member he desired to see Scottish 338 questions discussed in the House; and it was only in eases of extreme pressure, where they could not get a hearing, that he had ever advocated Scottish Bills being sent upstairs. He thought they derived an advantage from the presence of English and Irish Members, and that the proceedings in connection with their measures should be open to discussion by Members from all parts of the United Kingdom. On the part of his constituency, he said, as well as for himself, very strongly, that he thought Scotsmen generally took much greater interest in Imperial questions than in questions purely Scottish, and they desired their Members to give their attention to those questions as well as to those relating to Scotland. He would not deny that there had been occasions in which difficulty had been experienced in the way of Scottish Business, on which he had proposed that a Bill should be sent to a Select Committee; but if the Government measure was successful in lightening the load that was pressing on the House, he trusted that Scottish Members, in common with those of the rest of the United Kingdom, would experience relief, and that their measures would have a better chance of being considered in the House than hitherto. Scottish measures were usually of a limited character, connected principally with questions of administration which, need not be a great obstacle to legislation if the opportunity were given for their consideration. He trusted the proposal of the Government would embrace a good deal of Scottish Business. He thought, however, that the proceedings of the Grand Committees should be public, and that reporters should be admitted. Otherwise they would be regarded with suspicion and distrust. The Grand Committee on Law would be, he imagined, not on English law only, but on the law of the United Kingdom, and it would be in the power of the House to remit to it Bills connected either with Scotland or Ireland. He believed it would be a great advantage to Scotland. The noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) said Scottish Members would be in a minority on the Committees. But they were in a minority in the House, and they would not, therefore, be at any greater disadvantage in the Committees. Again, with regard to trade and commerce, there 339 were questions in Scottish law peculiar to that part of the United Kingdom. He did not know whether the House would be inclined to send a Bill affecting Scottish banking to a Committee upstairs; but he should deprecate that course. He claimed, on behalf of his constituents, the right to have a voice in legislation as regards currency in England, and also that English Members should have a voice as regards Scottish currency. He thought the apprehensions of danger from this measure were very much exaggerated. It was stated in the late debate that we were on the eve of a revolution; but he did not think so. He thought the change proposed was a practical one, and that the danger lay within very narrow limits; and he had great confidence in the power of public opinion to right the matter in case any Government should endeavour to use this power unfairly or unduly, or press it in a way which would be dangerous to the country.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, that the Resolution on which the House was now engaged professed to do no more than to appoint Standing Committees for the consideration of important Bills, and it did not contain any direction that the consideration of the Bills by those Committees should supersede their consideration by a Committee of the Whole House. They had to go to Rule 4 to find that a Bill referred to a Standing Committee was afterwards to be proceeded with as if it had been reported by a Committee of the Whole House. If Rule 4 were rejected by the House and Rule 1 were accepted, why should they limit to two Committees only the excellent plan of having Standing Committees to consider important Bills? Why should not the House have the power of appointing as many of those Committees as was necessary for the consideration of important Bills? He was, therefore, in favour of the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), because if the Standing Committees were not to be in the place of Committees of the Whole House they would be an unmixed good. The hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had stated that the Grand Committees as contemplated by the Government would be of the greatest possible importance in preparing Bills for discussion in the 340 House; but the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), a very experienced Member, had cut the ground from; under the hon. Baronet's feet, because he had pointed out that those Grand Committees would not be really free to deliberate in the same way as Select Committees to which Bills were now referred. The hon. Member for Bedford said that those Standing Committees were not to be only Committees for inquiry, but Committees for bringing Bills a stage forward from the point of view of legislation—in other words, they would not only be inquiring Committees, but lawmaking Committees. Nothing would be allowed to be done in a Grand Committee which ran counter to the general policy of the Ministerial majority in the House. That feature of the Government scheme would, in his opinion, destroy the efficiency of the Grand Committees. Each Grand Committee was to be a microcosm, or the House in miniature, and would have to be provided with a Ministerial majority calculated to override any propositions brought forward within the bosom of the Grand Committee, just as the Ministerial majority in the House would be able to override any proposition brought forward by the minority of the House. That totally destroyed the essential value of the Grand Committee, and prevented it having any real worth as a means of maturing the consideration of measures. On the other hand, if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy were accepted, the House would be in this position:—Take, for example, the case of the Bill for the Codification of the Criminal Law. If the existing number of Standing Committees were sufficiently burdened with other matters, the House could appoint a special Standing Committee to consider Bills of that kind. Twenty-five or 30 Members would be quite sufficient to form a body of experts whose deliberations would be of the greatest assistance to Parliament; whereas, if the proposal of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy were adopted simply, the House would be driven to turn the Report stage into a discussion in Committee of the Whole House, and a great waste of public time would be the result. The Prime Minister favoured the proposal, as enabling the House to delegate a large portion of its work, thus providing leisure for the discussion of local affairs. 341 That seemed to him very much like asking the House to do badly a part of its Business in order that it might apply itself also badly to the consideration of local affairs; and the result would be the addition of a great deal of acerbity combined with very little real progress.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he should be obliged if, in order to save the time of the House, he was permitted to withdraw his Amendment. He felt he could not resist the view put forward by the Prime Minister, that, whatever his wishes might be with regard to a further extension of the scheme, he must be guided by what the House would accede to now. He (Sir George Campbell) thought himself fortunate in having elicited the speeches of the noble Lord the Member for North Lieceatershire (Lord John Manners) and the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). The very objections to the Government proposal made it obvious that it ought to go a good deal further. He, however, consoled himself with thinking that the addition of 15 Members which the Government proposed would, to a certain extent, meet his views.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
, in moving to insert, in line 1, after "Committees," the words "which shall not sit for more than three hours in any day," pointed out the necessity which existed for providing some period of leisure between the labours of the Committee and those of the House. Nobody could work the number of hours at present demanded from Members. At that moment the Secretary of State for War, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Speaker were upon the sick list, and all because of the high pressure at which the Prime Minister insisted on working. The consequence of this great stress of labour was that the Premier was obliged to refuse to receive a deputation the other day, one of his most important duties; and he therefore trusted the Government would consent to do something to relax the severity of the strain.
In line 1, after the word "Committees," to insert the words "which shall not sit for more than three hours in any day."—(Mr. Stanley Leighton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, that, however much the Government might appreciate the object which the hon. Member had in view, it would be extremely inconvenient to carry out that object in the way proposed. No doubt, one of the great difficulties involved in the first scheme was the amount of work entailed upon Members; but the House must remember that the scheme was only experimental; and he wished to say, as showing that the work of the House and the work of Committees might go on simultaneously, that in the first Session of the present Parliament he had himself sat on two Committees in addition to discharging the ordinary duties of his Office and his work in Parliament. The Government wished to try the experiment; and, as far as the arrangement of the hours was concerned, he thought it would be best left to the determination of the Committee itself.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he hoped that his hon. Friend would not press the Amendment, although he was bound to admit that there was a great deal to be said in its favour. He did not think that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had quite met the arguments of his hon. Friend, especially when he said that it would be for the Grand Committees themselves to decide on what days they would sit. A more inconvenient course than that could not be adopted. His (Sir Walter B. Barttelot's) own notion was that, if they were to have these Grand Committees, certain days should be fixed upon which they should sit—say, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or, even better, on Tuesdays and Fridays, except, of course, when the House was holding Morning Sittings. He trusted most sincerely that if they had these Grand Committees there would not be Morning Sittings on the same day, because the Business of the House could not be disposed of if every day hon. Members were called upon to do so large an amount of labour as would be involved in sitting on Grand Committees in the morning, and at the House in the afternoon, simply to pass Bills that might or might not be required. There was no doubt that there was a great tendency just now to over-legislate, and in 343 that connection he wished to point out that the Private Bill legislation of the country was as important to those districts to which it related as any Bill that could be introduced by the Government. He hoped the House might hear from the Government that it was their intention to name definite days on which the Grand Committees might sit.
§ MR. GREGORY
considered that there should be a fixed rule as to the time at which the Committees should meet.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
wished to call attention to the fact that in the French Chamber, where the work of the Bureau was somewhat similar to that of the proposed Grand Committee, the Chamber did not meet on the same day as the Bureau. The remarks of the President of the Board of Trade very well illustrated the enormous difference which existed between Members of the Government, who were professional politicians, receiving salaries, and private Members, who, in addition to their duties in the House, had to earn their own living or support themselves out of their private incomes. The first-mentioned class could, of course, devote their whole time to their Parliamentary work; but it was impossible for the second to do so. Unless the work of these Committees was made light for ordinary shoulders, the Grand Committees would simply be more and more a refuge for official Members, or else Members would require to receive a salary for the discharge of their public duties.
§ THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. LYON PLAYFAIR)
pointed out that the Question before the House was not one of the days, but simply one of the hours during which the Committees should sit.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
proposed to insert, inline 1, after "Committees," the words "which shall only sit whilst the House is not sitting." He said it was impossible for a man to be in two places at once. That proposition was so simple that he did not propose to support it by argument. The fact was that this scheme of the Government was a perfectly crude one which the Government had never fully considered.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
proposed to amend the Amendment by adding the words "and on Tuesdays and Fridays, from noon till 4." It would be obviously inconvenient that the Committees should be sitting on the same day that Government Business was taken, because that naturally attracted a large number of Members. As regards the appointment of the hours and days of meeting, he strongly urged the Government to fix them themselves. No more obstructive discussion could be possibly conceived, as was very well illustrated in the case of the Railway Rates Committee, than a discussion by a large number of Gentlemen of the most convenient times of meeting. He thought the Government ought to fill in the sketchy outline of the scheme which they had presented to the House by stating on what days and on what hours Grand Committees were to sit. He begged to move his Amendment.
Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment,
To add, at the end thereof, the words "and on Tuesdays and Fridays from Noon till Four o'clock p.m."—(Lord Randolph Churchill.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be added to the said proposed Amendment."
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he could not conceive anything more likely to render the new scheme ineffectual than the proposition of the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross). It was not at all certain yet at what time it would be desirable for these Grand Committees to meet. At the present time the Committees could not sit while the House was sitting without the leave of the House, so that this Motion was quite unnecessary, unless it was to fetter the action of the House and the Committees. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) and the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire had accused the Government of not having given proper consideration to their plan. Well, he was prepared to say that it was these right hon. Gentlemen who had not given proper consideration to 345 the matter, otherwise they would never have made such an assertion. If they had taken the trouble they would have found ample warrant to show that the consideration of these Rules had not been confined to the present House, but had been before the House and the Government and Speakers of former times. This fettering policy was most unwise on the part of even the Conservative Party. It was not the quantity of Business that was of most importance, but the way in which Business was done. What was the case now? They did a lot of Business, but it was done so ill as to reflect discredit on the Government of the day, whether Liberal or Conservative, and on the House itself; and in these continual attempts to embarrass the Government in carrying on the Business they were gradually tending to discredit utterly the House of Commons in the eyes of the country. ["Oh, oh!"] He spoke with knowledge when he said so; and when his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Whitley) had represented Liverpool for 11 years, as he had done, that hon. Gentleman would say the same. Scarcely a Bill passed through that House which was not shown by someone in a large constituency, before it had been in operation for more than a year or two, to have been drawn most carelessly.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I rise to a point of Order. I wish to know whether the hon. Member ought not to address himself to the Amendment before the House?
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, the Amendment, as he understood, was intended to limit the action of the Resolution before the House. The right hon. Gentlemen opposite had all gone into the general question much more fully than he had done. He ventured to think it was important to give as much latitude as possible to the experiment proposed by the Government. He would point out to the House that the object of these new Committees was to enable the House to divide its labours; and in order to do so properly the House ought to enable the Committees to sit at times when the commercial or legal Members could most conveniently attend without damaging the work which was before the House. Let them take a single instance. Suppose that a Motion was before the House on a Tuesday for the Marriage with a De- 346 ceased Wife's Sister Bill. That was a Motion very often before the House. Well, at the time such Motion was before them the probability was that every one of those great commercial and legal Members would have thoroughly made up their minds as to how they would vote, and they would not take the trouble to sit in the House during the discussion. Was there any reason, therefore, why a Grand Committee should not sit while that debate was going on? They must, indeed, make some effort to allow the Committee Business to be effectually done, and not have it "scamped." If any Member of the House had ever sat on Special Committees where the draftsman was present—which might be the case on these Grand Committees—he would know what an immense safeguard that was against misdrafting and carelessness. Bills in the whole House were not gone through so carefully as they would be in Committees, and it was desirable that these Committees should be allowed to sit at any time found by experience to interfere least with the convenience of the Members. He hoped, therefore, that as these Committees were an experiment, the Government and the House would not give way, but would leave the question as to the time of sitting to be guided by experience. If hon. Gentlemen opposite sought constantly to limit in every direction the operation of the scheme, the responsibility for its failure would not be with the Government, but would certainly be laid upon those Members by the country.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, he was not in favour of Grand Committees at all; but if they were to try the proposed experiment he hoped the Government would not destroy every chance of its success by allowing these Committees to sit contemporaneously with the House. If they should sit at the same time as the House the confidence of the country in the work of the House would soon be destroyed. If the House and Grand Committees should sit at the same time Members would not know which to attend, and there would probably be but a meagre attendance on these Committees when there ought to be a full one. By the institution of these Committees the Government would create confusion, and if they should be allowed to sit at the same time as the House 347 that confusion would be worse confounded. He suggested the withdrawal of the noble Lord's Amendment, on the ground that that particular moment was not an opportune one for putting it forward.
§ MR. NORWOOD
assured the Government that there was no desire on the Ministerial side of the House to obstruct their proposals. At the same time, the House would not be fulfilling its duty if it were not to discuss fully a scheme of such importance as that under consideration. If these Committees were to be a substitution for a Committee of the Whole House, at which reporters and strangers could always be present, it was clear that their times of sitting and the circumstances under which the Sittings were to take place should be clearly defined beforehand. If the House was prepared to abandon the right of discussing the measure in full Committee and in presence of the Press and the public, they were prepared to take a very serious step indeed; and it was, in his opinion, absolutely necessary that the days of sitting and the hours of sitting should be clearly and distinctly known. How could they expect merchants, or bankers, or shipowners, or lawyers to throw their business entirely on one side, unless they knew precisely when they were to sit, and for what number of hours? They ought not to be hole-and-corner Committees. To allow a majority in one of these Committees to determine at 4 on one afternoon the time of their meeting next day would be a great mistake. He should support the Amendment of the noble Lord.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, the Government would very thankfully accept assistance from whatever quarter in perfecting those Rules and in making them clearer, and giving a better chance to the experiment which it had now been decided to try. But it was not to Gentlemen who had a rooted dislike to the experiment that one could look for the most successful method of carrying it into operation. His hon. Friend who had just addressed the House had drawn a picture of what he was pleased to call a "hole-and-corner" Committee, settling from day to day the hour at which they would meet; but, in point of fact, the practice of these Grand Committees would be practically the same as the practice of Select Committees. A Select 348 Committee decided at its first meeting how often, and on what days, and for what number of hours per day its Business would be conducted. ["No!"] He asserted that that was the almost universal practice, and if they answered him by saying there were occasional exceptions, that only showed the importance of leaving a little discretion to the Committees. There might be circumstances in which a hard-and-fast rule would be inapplicable and inconvenient; and it was desirable, therefore, to give them at least as much discretion as a Select Committee. What was in the contemplation of the Government was that the Standing Committee would settle, at the commencement of its proceedings, the days and hours on which it would meet. The noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) condemned what he called the indefinite nature of the proposal of the Government; but he himself was so undecided that, whereas he put down an Amendment that the meetings should be on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, he now changed his mind, and proposed only Tuesdays and Fridays. It was said that if the House did not settle on what days the Committees should meet, there would be Obstruction in the Committee on this very matter—that was really to impute to Members a desire to prevent Business, which he did not believe they would be found to possess. Looking to the subjects to be referred to those Committees, he did not believe that any Member would feel himself justified in obstructing its proceedings; and, if he did, he would not have the support of his constituents in so doing, because he could not allege that there were matters of great Party or Imperial importance involved. His hon. Friend the Member for Swansea had pointed out that great inconvenience would arise if Grand Committees met, as a rule, at times when the House was sitting. But nobody supposed that they would do anything of the kind. It might be said—Why not make that absolutely clear in the Resolutions? Why, what was the present Rule? The present Rule of the House was, with respect to Select Committees, that, except on Wednesdays and Morning Sittings, they should not sit when the House was sitting, except with the leave of the House. When this would be the general practice, he 349 submitted that it would not be wise to limit the discretion of the Committee on an occasion when they might be discussing a certain point. The only question was, whether they thought it absolutely necessary to prevent the possibility of the House sitting for a short time under such special circumstances.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he thought the President of the Board of Trade was rather mistaken in comparing these Grand Committees to Select Committees. Indeed, they were called Standing Committees for the very purpose of distinguishing them from Select Committees. It was easy for a Select Committee, which had only one matter referred to it, to determine the days of the week on which it would sit for a certain length of time; but the ease was altogether different in regard to a Standing Committee to which a large number of Bills had been referred. It would be very awkward to have the proceedings of a Standing Committee constantly interrupted by the ringing of the Division Bell of the House, especially as a Division might be taking place in the Committee itself at the same time.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, he was of opinion that the Standing Committees should have discretion as to the time of their meetings. The Amendment was a restriction binding the Standing Committees not to sit while the House was sitting; but it was a Rule of the House that Committees should not sit while the House was sitting. The Grand Committees ought not to be tied down to any particular days. If the noble Lord's Amendment were carried the result would be that the Committees would not be able to adjourn over a particular day named by the House. It would also prevent them working de die in diem, and there was this fact to remember—that until the Bills were referred to them they could not know what Bills they would have to consider, and what time they would have at their disposal. For these reasons he should support the Government.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he would remind the House that a Bill, after having passed through a Select Committee, had to pass through a Committee of the Whole House; whereas, under the present scheme, it would not be submitted to a Committee of the Whole House after having passed through a Grand Committee. 350 He thought a matter referred to a Grand Committee ought not be left to be decided once for all by a majority of that Committee, for it might happen that the minority included the very Members who were best acquainted with the subject, and most capable of discussing it. The hon. Member opposite had spoken of the zeal which would be shown by the Members of the Grand Committees; but the very thing it was necessary to guard against was too much zeal in pressing on Bills. The President of the Board of Trade, in opposition to the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone), had characterized the proposal that the Committees should be sitting at the same time as the House as "absurd," and he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. The time of the meetings of the Committees should be arranged in such a way as to inspire confidence that the matters brought before them would be discussed with full deliberation. He therefore hoped the Government would accept the Amendment.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, it was difficult to see what amount of importance and dignity was to be attributed to these Standing Committees. When it was desired to impress the House with the power and importance of these Committees they were told that the whole power of the House would be delegated to them; but when Amendments were proposed on the assumption that such would be the position of these Committees, and an endeavour was made to prevent these Committees, to whom was to be delegated the whole power of the House, from clashing with the time of the House itself, they were told that the same Rules that governed the meetings of Select Committees would apply to these Standing Committees, and that the House need not lay down Rules as to the times at which they were to meet. If these Committees were to be like Select Committees, then the House would know how to deal with them; but if they were to be Committees to which the powers of the House were to be delegated, then the present Amendment was clearly a proper one to be accepted. The hon. Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone) had suggested that Members of a Grand Committee actually sitting might come in from the Committee to give their votes on any question before the House, and thus recon- 351 cile their duty to the Grand Committee with their duty to the House. He ventured to say that a more monstrous proposition had never been submitted to the House of Commons; and he was glad to find that a Minister of the Cabinet, who spoke after the hon. Member, repudiated that proposition, for the President of the Board of Trade had expressed his opinion that it would not be convenient that the Standing Committees should meet at the same time as the House. If that was so, why should not the Government accept the Amendment of his noble Friend? Judging from the fervid tone of the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire, he believed he was the real author of this Resolution. They had heard from the Prime Minister to-day that if he had had his way he would have proposed something larger than this scheme. If this scheme was to work at all, he thought the adoption of the Amendment was absolutely essential.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he would remind the House that the Prime Minister had stated that it was the desire of many of the younger Members of the House to take part in the present discussion; but, instead of these intellectual juniors, the House had heard none but the old stagers in support of this scheme. The Prime Minister, in leaving the House, reminded him of a skilful leading counsel who, after making an able speech, rushed out of Court leaving his unfortunate junior to flounder on as best he could. Here the juniors knew nothing whatever about the case. He had never seen a more pitiful object than the President of the Local Government Board when he tried the other evening to answer questions that were put to the Government. ["Oh!"] He stammered and stuttered and stammered. [Cries of "Order!" and "Withdraw!"]
§ THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. LYON PLAYFAIR)
reminded the hon. and learned Member that the Question before the House was whether the Standing Committees should sit on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, from noon till 4 P.M.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he had no wish to be offensive; but the way in which the arguments against the Rule were met by the Government officials did not reflect much credit on their ability. As, however, the Prime Minister ruled his Colleagues and his Party, he (Mr. 352 Warton) wanted to know from those who at present occupied the Treasury Bench, if the right hon. Gentleman had left with them any instructions as to this particular Amendment? It appeared that in the absence of the Prime Minister, and in default of instructions, not one single Member on the Treasury Bench dare yield to any Amendments. All they could do was stupidly and stolidly to oppose every alteration.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, that it was plainly unbusinesslike to pass this Resolution without making some provision for the Sittings of the Grand Committees. The House itself was bound to sit on certain days and not to sit on others, and Select Committees and Private Bill Committees were also under regulation in the matter of their Sittings. Yet now it was proposed to form something unlike any other Parliamentary institution, and with the delegated powers of the House itself. If it were intended that the Standing Committees should have delegated to them certain duties heretofore performed by the Whole House, it followed that the Standing Committees were to be the Whole House of Commons pro hac vice in relation to their particular duties. If it were to be left to the discretion of the Committees when they would sit, would they not at once be met with the difficulty that, being in theory the House itself, they would sit at the same time—namely, through the night and at Morning Sittings? There was nothing whatever in the Rules to suggest that the Grand Committees should conform their proceedings to those of Select Committees. No argument had been presented in favour of the Grand Committees sitting at the same time as the House. If it were intended that they should sit at those times, it ought to be frankly stated; and some words ought to be inserted in the Resolution which would be a certain indication to the Committee of the times at which they were to sit.
said, that, as the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India had now come into the House, he would make an appeal to him as to the position in which the House was placed. The President of the Board of Trade had stated that no suggestion of the opponents of Standing Committees would be received with favour.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
, interposing, said, that, on the contrary, his observation was that the Government would be prepared to accept assistance in making these Rules better, no matter from what quarter of the House it might come.
said, that the right hon. Gentleman also used words which undoubtedly conveyed the impression that any suggestions from those opposed to the principle of the Grand Committees would not be received with favour. He was not an opponent of Grand Committees on principle; and he trusted, therefore, that his suggestion might be favourably received by the Government. The House was in the unfortunate position of having to discuss the Resolution in the absence of its author; and there was not one Minister now sitting on the Treasury Bench who, in the absence of his Chief, dare make any alteration in the Rule. If the Prime Minister were present it was not improbable that the cogency of the arguments adduced in favour of an alteration of the Resolution would induce him to accept some Amendment. Hardly any Member in the House held that Grand Committees ought to sit when the House should be sitting. That being so, the Government ought to accept the view of his right hon. Friend. It seemed to him that these Resolutions would never form the groundwork of a satisfactory scheme, when the Government came down with a very crude, but still hard-and-fast proposal, which they proposed to modify, notwithstanding the general concurrence of the House.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, he thought there was every excuse for the Prime Minister's temporary absence from the House. They should remember that the right hon. Gentleman's labours had been exceedingly arduous. He did not think that it would be convenient if Grand Committees were to sit during the Sittings of the House. Select Committees, however, often asked for leave to sit after the meeting of the House. At the same time, they seldom sat during debating hours; but there was from half to three-quarters of an hour before those hours were reached which could be advantageously employed. He, therefore, thought it would be reasonable to add to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton 354 Cross) the words "except by leave of the House obtained on each occasion." That would enable Grand Committees to sit during the same hours as those during which Select Committees could sit.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, he hoped the House would not fall into the error of confounding the proposed Grand Committees with Select Committees. The former would have the power of advancing Bills a stage—a power which the latter had never enjoyed. He thought the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) might be postponed for the present; but he should heartily support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. DODSON
denied the assumption that these Grand Committees would have legislative powers. They would be in the position of a Select Committee to which a Bill had been referred, for, if the House should so order, the Bill sent to a Grand Committee would be referred back to a Committee of the Whole House. The view of the Government was that Grand Committees would, in fact, be Select Committees, and that they would ipso facto be liable to the Rules that governed Select Committees. Their meetings would therefore be governed by those Rules, and they would not have the power to sit except by leave of the House at the time during which the House sat, except on Wednesdays, and when there were Morning Sittings. As to the Amendment of the noble Lord, limiting the days on which the Committees should sit, it would be unreasonable and unfair to impose any such restriction upon them. He was afraid that the Amendment, if amended as suggested by his hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), would not give effect to the intentions of his hon. Friend, because it would prevent the Committees from sitting during Morning Sittings without the express leave of the House. The Government did not believe that any words were necessary to bring these Standing Committees under the Rules which governed Select Committees. But if it were the wish of the House that it should be more clearly expressed in words, the Government would have no objection to amend the Resolution by adding— 355The Sittings of such Committees shall be subject to the same Rules and Standing Orders as those of Select Committees.["No!"] They must resist the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire, and the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that nothing in the debate seemed more unsatisfactory than the speech which they had just heard. There were only two Members who advocated the sitting of these Committees during the sitting of the House; but the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) had pointed out the great inconvenience of such a course. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) must have forgotten what the Rules of the House were with regard to Select Committees, so far as regarded their sitting on Wednesdays and during Morning Sittings. The effect of the hon. Member's suggestion would be that Standing Committees should be placed on the same footing as Select Committees; and, therefore, on Wednesdays and during Morning Sittings they would be debarred from taking part in the Business of the House. Now, if there was one question more important than another it was the question of Supply, which, after Easter, was generally taken at Morning Sittings; and yet those Gentlemen upstairs, who might be debating matters of high political import, were not to be allowed to take part in the discussion of that which the Prime Minister, two days ago, stated to be their primary duty. There was really no analogy between these Committees and the ordinary Select Committees. Political questions entered very little, as a rule, into the deliberations of ordinary Select Committees; but the Standing Committees would have political questions of vital importance to deal with. It was on that account that the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) had urged that these Committees should be made, as far as possible, a microcosm of the House. The proposition of the right hon. Gentleman had, therefore, only to be stated to be repudiated. He hoped the House would not accept any such proposal. He thought if the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had been present it would never have been made, and he 356 deeply regretted that the right hon. Gentleman was not present.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would go to a division, and that the noble Lord would withdraw his Amendment. They had to thank Her Majesty's Government for nothing. What was objected to was that the Grand Committees should sit on Wednesdays and during Morning Sittings. It was absurd to lay down such a proposition as that these Committees were the same as Select Committees. There were to be 160 Members taken from the House—where they were to sit he could not say—they were to be called down constantly to divisions in the House, and then to rush back to their rooms. Many of those Gentlemen had the gout and all sorts of things, and yet they were to run up and down in that way. It was perfectly preposterous that 160 Gentlemen should be asked to sit and talk in one room and vote in another.
§ SIR GABRIEL GOLDNEY
said, that, when Standing Committees were appointed, before it was the invariable practice to declare the days and hours at which they were to sit, they were generally allowed to sit from 9 o'clock till 12 or 2; but they were not to sit during the Sittings of the House. In the first Parliament after the Reform Bill, immediately after the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne was voted, the House set about getting rid of Grand Committees. Lord Althorp moved for a Committee to inquire into the Procedure of the House; and, although no reference was made to the Grand Committees, it was the general feeling of the House that they should be done away with. Lord Althorp stated that the more convenient course would be to refer Bills to Select Committees, because the Grand Committees had dwindled down, and the necessity for them had passed away. In his opinion, both the time for the Sittings of the Grand Committees and the number requisite to form a quorum ought to be defined; and no sufficiently large quorum would be obtained if the Committees sat during the Morning Sittings of the House.
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite adhered to his statement that Grand Committees would have no 357 legislative functions, and that Bills referred to them would be in the same position as if they had not been so referred?
§ MR. DODSON
said, that any Bill might, after the Committee stage, be re-committed by order of the House.
SIR HARDINGE GIFFAED
asked whether it was intended that that should be done in the case of Bills sent to Grand Committees? The House could, of course, do what it pleased; but the point was one on which information seemed very desirable. Then, again, what would happen if a Grand Committee that absorbed, say, all the lawyers in the House were sitting while a legal subject chanced to be under discussion in the House itself? It would be a scandal if, owing to the Grand Committee and the House sitting at the same time, Members should be forced to run from one to the other to give alternative votes, without knowing much of what was going on in one or the other.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had stated that all the regulations and conditions imposed upon Select Committees of the House would be applicable to those Grand Committees. He wished, therefore, to ask some Member of the Government whether those Grand Committees were to report upon each Bill which they were appointed to revise? A Select Committee was bound to report, and its Report contained not only the subject matter which the Committee wished to convey to the House, but the whole proceedings of the Committee, so that the House should know, in the case of a Select Committee, what was the opinion of the individual Members composing that Committee, and had that for its guidance in judging of the Report. Were the Bills which came out of those Grand Committees to be presented to the House with no notice of the Amendments made in them? Was each Member of the House to be put to the trouble of comparing the Bill as it went into Committee with the Bill as it came back to the House, in order to ascertain in what particulars it had been altered? And was the House to be kept in ignorance of the opinion of the individual Members of the Grand Committees?
§ THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. LYON PLAYFAIR)
reminded the hon. Member 358 for North Warwickshire that the Question immediately before the House was whether the Grand Committees were to sit during the Sittings of the House.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
begged to excuse himself on the ground that an announcement had been made, through the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, that it was intended by the Government that all the Rules which were applicable to Select Committees were to apply also to those Grand Committees. For that reason he had put these questions, as it appeared to him that it was not really in the contemplation of the Government to apply to those Grand Committees and their proceedings all the Rules that were enforced in the case of Select Committees.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, he supported the Amendment on the ground that the Grand Committees would be so large that, if they sat simultaneously with the House, the latter would be deprived of its due number of attendants. Remembering the interruptions to which a Select Committee was exposed during the Sitting of the House by the occurrence of divisions and the stampede of Members from a remote Committee Room, he asked the House to imagine what would happen if Grand Committees rushed to the House on the ringing of the Division Bell, and whether it could tolerate the exaggeration of a performance that now often became ridiculous?
said, that if Members absented themselves from the House to attend a Grand Committee, or from a Committee to attend the House, they would be likely to revive questions that were decided in their absence; and the ease with which a Chairman could obtain formal leave for a Committee to prolong its Sitting would often impose a severe penalty on Members who would rather be in the House than in the Committee Room.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Hicks.359
§ MR. DODSON
said, he thought the House was prepared to come to a decision upon the Amendment to the Amendment, and hoped that the Motion for Adjournment would be withdrawn.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
hoped the Motion would be pressed to a division, because the Members of the Government present had refused a concession which would have been granted long ago if the Prime Minister had been present. He hoped that all the Forms of the House would be resorted to in order to prevent the Resolution in its present form being passed.
said, they should not setup two small Parliaments by the side of the existing Parliament. This they would do if they established Committees with legislative as well as consultative powers, and without any restrictions as to the times and duration of their Sittings. ["Divide!"] If time had been lost to-day it was the fault of Her Majesty's Government. The argument, in the first instance, had been very strongly against Grand Committees sitting at the same time as the House. The President of the Board of Trade then stated that these Committees were to work in all respects in the same way as Select Committees did. Yet the President of the Local Government Board had directly contradicted that statement, and said that it was the intention of the Government that Grand Committees should sit while the House was sitting. He hoped that even now some Member of the Government would rise and indicate that they were prepared to meet half-way, not hon. Gentlemen of the Opposition, but the general sense of the House; and that would remove a stumbling-block from their path, not only on this Resolution, but on those which were to follow.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, the Government had consented that these Committees should work under the Rules applicable to Select Committees, and now they were asked for a further limitation. It was impossible at that hour to go into the subject; but the Government had no desire to run counter to the pronounced opinion of the House, and the House had not manifested any desire that a further limitation should be placed on these Committees,
360 And it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at fourteen minutes before Six o'clock.