I rise to redeem the pledge under which the Government lies towards the House with respect to indicating what they propose should be the course of Public Business during the remainder of the Session. I think I should state, in the first instance, how we should, in the view of the Government, have stood to-day had no remarkable or peculiar circumstances occurred to influence our views. If there had been no remarkable or peculiar circumstances of that kind, there is no doubt before the House a very considerable mass of Business of a useful and valuable character, in the shape of Bills relating to various branches of the Law and to all the Three Kingdoms and the Principality of Wales. But I think that by a Session not unexampled, but still of ample length, reaching probably to a very late date in August, those Bills might have been disposed of, and very useful additions made to the Statute Book. The remarkable circumstance, however, has occurred in the failure of the Franchise Bill. That Bill, as is known to the House, it has been the great object of the Government to forward ever since the commencement of the Session. For four months it has been before the House, and I think we considered it in 26 different Sittings. The view which the Government take of that particular Bill—I do not, of course, wish to defend it or justify it now in any way—is that it contemplates an object of paramount importance, and that it is their duty to ask the House to arrange its proceedings and plans with reference to the measure being again considered. What we wish to do is this. We have a double object in view. The first and 693 paramount duty which, as we think, presses upon us, is to secure by the proper Constitutional and regular method at the earliest possible date the passing of the Franchise Bill, the principles of which have received—in the House of Commons by positive votes, and in the House of Lords by words not deficient in force—the assent of both Houses of Parliament. Next to securing the passing of the Franchise Bill, we are most anxious to keep, both in spirit and letter, all the engagements to which we have come in respect to redistribution—engagements which might, under certain circumstances beyond our control, be seriously disturbed. For the present, however, our object is to gain those two points, and, above all, to be in a condition to secure, if we can, the passing of the Franchise Bill, and also to be in a condition, at the commencement of the next Session, to proceed as we have always contemplated, and to ask the House to proceed with a Redistribution Bill, and to make it, so far as our powers are concerned, the principal object of the next Session of Parliament. We do not see any way in which these two objects can be attained, except by advising Her Majesty to assent to an Autumn Session, and Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to consent to the assembling of the House in the course of the autumn for the purpose of again considering the Franchise Bill. The House will now perceive that if we are to ask hon. Members to make the serious sacrifice of coming here during the Recess for the purpose of passing an important legislative measure, it becomes a very serious question how much more are we to ask for in the discharge of the ordinary labours of the Session. The advice has been patriotically given that there should be an Autumn Session, and that likewise we should proceed with all the Bills now before the House, and, in particular, with the London Government Bill; and that, having passed all those Bills, we should then proceed with the Autumn Session. I refer to that in all good humour, to show what would be our duty, if it were possible, morally, socially, or physically, to exact such sacrifices—I will not say from the House of Commons, but from any possible or conceivable body of men that could be assembled within the walls of any possible or conceivable Legislative Cham- 694 ber. It cannot be; and that being so, and having stated that in our view the passing of the Franchise Bill, and next to that the fulfilment of our engagement in respect to redistribution ought to be our paramount object, we have, with regret, come to the conclusion that we have no option except to make a rather sweeping and very impartial sacrifice of a number of valuable measures which the House has either before it or in contemplation. Of course, I do not speak of all the Bills on the Order Book. The common practice on these occasions is to enumerate all those Bills which appear to the Government to be Bills of importance, and Bills likely to make a sensible demand on the time of the House. We have asked ourselves whether there is any exception that we can justly make in this somewhat sweeping devastation? There is one exception we propose to make, of which the principle is generally recognized by the House. The exception is founded upon the consideration that certain Bills have passed through the Grand Committees; and, therefore, the bulk of the labour which the House would have to give to them may be considered primâ facie to have been actually expended, and ought not to be lost. One of these in particular, and the most important, is the Corrupt Practices at Municipal Elections Bill. It is, I believe, generally and universally desired. ["No!"] That is my belief. We think it our duty to contemplate asking the House to proceed with that Bill. There is another Bill also of importance, and which, in our judgment, is very valuable. It is a Bill with respect to the Law of Evidence, and as to it, I am not so certain that a universally good reception can be secured for it. It ought to be distinctly understood that we reserve to ourselves entire freedom to proceed with that Bill. With regard to the rest of the Bills coming within the class I have described, I am sorry to say we are not able to find any ground of exemption which, if allowed, would not lead to the raising of various claims which it would be imposible to defend. These important measures—no less than nine in number—are the London Government Bill, the Railway Regulation Bill, the Universities of Scotland Bill, the Education (Wales) Bill, the Irish Land Purchase Bill, the Sunday Closing (Ireland) Bill, the Coinage Bill, the Police Superannua- 695 tion Bill, and, finally, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, which has come from the House of Lords, and which, like the other Bills, is certain to occupy considerable time in debate, and involves questions of great difficulty. I do not know if the House of Lords is likely to send any Bills of this class; and, therefore, what I say may be an abstract proposition—namely, that if any such Bills should come from the House of Lords, we should not ask the House of Commons to proceed with them. With regard to the Medical Act Amendment Bill, I will not give a final judgment upon it, upon these grounds—my noble Friend the President of the Council and my right hon. Friend (Mr. Mundella) are of opinion that they have very nearly arranged the principal disputed points, and a short time will test that; and it is also a Bill which has made considerable progress. It is now in Committee with the mark of "Progress" attached to it, and, that being so, it is a Bill with regard to which we could, without interfering with the course of other Business, sufficiently test whether it is the desire of the House to proceed with it or not. If it is, we reserve to ourselves the title to avail ourselves of that favourable judgment. Under these circumstances, it is obviously our first duty to proceed with Supply, and to make the forwarding of Supply—subject to ample opportunity of discussion—the great object we have in view. This being so, it has, of course, been our duty to ask whether we ought to make further demands on the time of the House. It would not ordinarily be fair, at this period of the Session, and even under pressing circumstances, to raise any question respecting Wednesdays. If we could find that, in the view of independent Members themselves, there was any reasonable expectation of their being able to make effective progress with any of their measures, we might hesitate to think of asking for the Wednesdays which they would lose if they were given to the Government; but the result of our inquiry is that there is no such chance in the remainder of the Session. I regret the interference with the legislation of private Members as much as the interference with that of the Government; but in this state of facts we shall be prepared to ask, upon Notice, and before next Wednesday, that the remaining 696 Wednesdays of the Session shall be given to the Government. Subject to any questions which may be put to me, I have made the substance of the statement I undertook to make, and stated what we proposed in a manner, I hope, not offensive. It would be extremely wrong of me to take advantage of a statement of the kind for the purpose of obtaining surreptitiously any kind of judgment from the House. I have stated that in our view it is of vital and paramount consequence that we should concentrate our attention upon the Franchise Bill, and resolutely endeavour to redeem the pledges we have given with regard to redistribution. Everything else I have stated flows, as a natural and inevitable consequence, out of the view taken on the part of the Government, which it was their duty, at the earliest moment, to communicate to the House.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Nobody can deny, or would wish to question, the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman has made the remarks he has just addressed to the House; and I hope that in anything that may be said that spirit will be carefully preserved. There are, however, one or two points on which, I think, under the peculiar circumstances of the time, it would be right that some observations should be made; and it would be more convenient that I should put myself in Order by asking leave to move the adjournment of the House in order to consider the statement with respect to the arrangement of Public Business now made by the First Lord of the Treasury.
§ Leave being granted—