Order read, for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Main Question, as amended,
That, after a Question has been proposed, a Member rising in his place may claim to move, 'That the Question be now put,' and. unless it shall appear to the Chair that such Motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority, the Question, 'That the Question be now put,' shall be put forthwith, and decided without Amendment or Debate:
When the Motion 'That the Question be now put.' has been carried, and the Question consequent thereon has been decided, any further Motion may be made (the assent of the Chair as aforesaid not having been withheld) which may be requisite to bring to a decision any Question already proposed from the Chair;and also if a Clause be then under consideration, a Motion may be made (the assent of the Chair as aforesaid not having been withheld) That the Question, That certain words of the Clause defined in the Motion stand part of the Clause, or That the Clause stand part of, or be added to the Bill, be now put. Such Motions shall be put forthwith, and decided without Amendment or Debate:
Provided always, That Questions for the Closure of Debate shall not be decided in the affirmative, if a Division be taken, unless it shall appear by the numbers declared from the Chair, that such Motion was supported by more than Two Hundred Members, or was opposed by less than Forty Members, and supported by more than One Hundred Members."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. E. R. RUSSELL (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I beg to move to insert, after the words "decided without Amendment or Debate," the following-words:—Provided, That whenever the Chair does not withhold its assent to a Motion of Closure which, if carried, would withdraw from consideration any Amendment of which Notice has been given, the Chair shall declare whether such an Amendment is an abuse of the Rules of the House or has been sufficiently discussed under some other form.I deprecate the idea that the passing of this Amendment will have any prejudi- 380 cial effect upon the legitimate action of the closure. For some years I have been an advocate of the closure, although I am anxious to see such a measure of closure as could be legitimately applied and which might reasonably be believed to be successful. The discussion which took place on Friday night turned on the possibility of the closure being applied to a debate on a clause of a Bill, and the consequent exclusion from discussion of certain bonâfide Amendments to such clause. Several suggestions had been made for meeting the case in point, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) moved an Amendment which, however, he subsequently withdrew in order to allow further time for consideration. It is that same Amendment which I am now again submitting to the judgment of the House. In the discussion on Friday night the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) said that the se who supported this proposal were seeking the right of unlimited Amendment. That, I can assure the House, is not our intention, and we do not believe that such a result can possibly ensue from the provisions which we propose. At the same time, the right of very free Amendment is essential to the usefulness of Parliament, and has tended very materially in the past to the improvement of legislation. I have noticed with much satisfaction that a number of eminent Members on both sides of the House have expressed great tenderness for the right of moving Amendments. I refer especially to the views which have been put forward on the subject by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Basingstoke Division of Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth), the hon. and learned Member for the Kings-winford Division of Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Leeds (Sir Lyon Playfair), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck). By means of Amendments persistently pressed great improvements were introduced into the Prisons Act and the Army Discipline Act. There was a time, I believe, when my hon. Friend the present Chairman of Committees (Mr. Courtney), in the debates on the South African Bill, found it necessary to press his right of moving Amendments to an extent which, 381 at the time, was considered to be vexatious. If it is said that the right of moving of Amendments to clauses in Bills will, if preserved in an unlimited form, be liable to abuse, I would reply that the two points placed in my proposal for the guidance of the Chair, and on which the Chair is required to pronounce an opinion, are a quite sufficient safeguard against any such danger. The Chairman, under this process, will only exclude such Amendments as are an abuse of the Rules of the House, or else have been sufficiently discussed under some other form. If the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) is willing to concede some safeguard, but prefers to give it in more general terms, then I will suggest that instead of this Amendment, the right hon. Gentleman should accept one which stands on the Paper in the name of my hon. Friend (Mr. John Ellis), and which requires that, when the closure is permitted by the Chair in a form that will shut out Amendments, the Chair shall declare generally the reasons why each such Amendment shall be so withdrawn from consideration. The right hon. Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), who in all these discussions on Procedure has shown a fair spirit, and spoken in the tone of a statesman, has confessed the possible dangers of this new Closure Rule, and the difficulties that may arise under it;but he urged us not to attend to such alarms, because the outlook was full of evil portent. I consider that, if the House keeps its head, we need not be afraid of evil portents. We can always manage our own Business, if we direct our efforts to that end. We accept the contention of the Government that, on a Motion of Closure, the Speaker shall have a right to veto;but as the Rule stands at present, the Chair will be placed in an extraordinary and novel position in regard to Amendments to clauses, as distinguished from the application of the closure on a single question which has been adequately debated. If, however, the Proviso which I propose were adopted, the Chair would be able on its own responsibility, and as the fit channel of the general good sense of the House, to discriminate as to what Amendments should, and what should pot, be withdrawn from consideration. 382 It may be said that this Proviso is inconsistent with the former contention of the Opposition—that the Chair should not exercise any discretion;but I would point out, in the first place, that the principle of the Chair exercising discretion has been accepted by the House, and is finally determined on;in the second place, surely the machinery to deal with such Amendments to a clause as are liable to be swept away without reference to their reasonableness, is very different to the machinery which we should wish to have employed when the Chair has to consider the stoppage of discussion on a distinct question under debate. The First Lord of the Treasury has urged that only bogus Amendments will be shut out by the Rule as it stands;but we have only the right hon. Gentleman's word for that, and he may not hereafter be in a position to give us that security which his occupancy of his present Office may fairly be said to afford us. The noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) has admitted that the Rule, as proposed by the Government, will unduly preclude the discussion of Amendments, and the noble Marquess has himself introduced an alteration with the view of meeting that defect. The alteration, however, does not go far enough, although as far as it does go it is a distinct improvement, and I think we ought to have his Lordship's support for the Proviso that I have moved, as it will secure the object we have in view without being open to any objection, and without being liable to abuse. I cannot imagine that, under any circumstances, it can be abused, and that is a strong argument in favour of the Proviso. We cannot have a worse "portent" than for this House to reject an Amendment that cannot be abused, in favour of a Regulation which is admitted by many of our most eminent and, so to speak, most Parliamentary Members to be not only absolutely novel, but open to grave objections. It has been a matter of satisfaction to hear Gentlemen in various parts of the House speaking, not from a Party point of view, nor even from the point of view of desiring to press Business forward with greater speed, but with a genuine sense of the noble traditions of this Assembly as a place of political debate and for the discussion of 383 everything which concerns the welfare of the nation. In conclusion, I move the insertion of my Proviso, believing that it is not liable to any abuse, that it will not weaken the legitimate use of the closure, and that it will furnish an automatic and satisfactory method of securing that every substantial and reasonable Amendment to a clause shall be brought before the House for examination and decision.
In line 12, after the word "Debate," to insert the words "Provided, That whenever the Chair does not withhold its assent to a Motion of Closure which, if carried, would withdraw from consideration any Amendment of which Notice has been given, the Chair shall declare whether such an Amendment is an abuse of the Rules of the House, or has been sufficiently discussed under some other form."—(Mr. E. R. Russell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the se words be there inserted."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand. Westminster)
I regret that the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridge-ton Division of Glasgow (Mr. E. R. Russell) has thought it necessary to raise this evening a question that was debated on Friday evening at considerable length and ultimately withdrawn.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool says that it was not debated at considerable length;but my impression is that my right hon. Friend opposite the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) spoke three times upon it in the course of the evening, and referred to the question frequently in a debate which lasted for some hours. It is unusual that a question of this character should be raised in almost precisely the same terms at the next Sitting after it had been distinctly withdrawn. At the same time, I believe that the Motion of the hon. Gentleman is perfectly in Order. I have only referred to that matter incidentally as an illustration of the extreme difficulty we have in making progress in the discussion of these Rules which are of vital importance to the House, and are intended to save the time of the House so that important questions may receive the consideration which ought to be given to them. The hon. Gentleman asks the House in his Amendment to lay 384 down a Rule which is absolutely novel in the practice of the House. It is altogether novel that the Speaker or Chairman of Committees should, by order of the House, give a reason for any decision on any duty imposed on him by the House in the discharge of his duties. I regret to say that almost every night now the Speaker has to interpose on Questions of Order, and it frequently happens that reasons are given;but it has never occurred to the House before that the Chair should be called upon to state the grounds upon which its decision has been given. It is important. I think, to see that under the terms of this Rule we do not impose a new duty upon the Chair;and hitherto it has never occurred to any hon. Member to require;the Chair to state the grounds on which a particular decision has been arrived at. It, therefore, seems to me that it would be an unfortunate departure for this House to take if they make it imperative to say—"Such a duty shall be imposed upon the Chair under all circumstances." It seems to me to open the way for the raising of questions as to the validity of the grounds on which the Chair may have taken a decision;and I can quite see how it is calculated seriously to impair the efficiency of the Chair. It-would expose the Chair to question as to whether a right and sound judgment had been exercised;and hon. Members will readily conceive what a large amount of inconvenience would be created by an absolutely universal compliance with such a stipulation. If we are to adopt Rules of this nature we are bound uniformly to adhere to certain principles, and we must place responsibility and trust in the Chair. The traditions which surround the Chair are such as give the House and the country absolute confidence in the impartiality of the Speaker. The House has already passed Rules which may be enforced in case of emergency, and I cannot sec any ground whatever for this new departure which the hon. Gentleman is endeavouring to induce the House to accept. We are told that we can always manage our own Business with accuracy and success. I entirely disagree with that statement. As a matter of fact, if we had not entirely broken down in the management of our Business it would not have been necessary to ask the House for this increased power. The hon. Member has 385 alluded to the right of free Amendment, and free discussion;but, for my own part, I think the right of moving Amendments, and the right of free discussion, will be greatly forwarded and assisted and not hindered by the restraint which the House is about to put on itself in the absolute waste of time in Amendments which must be acknowledged to be frivolous and mere repetition. More than that, they have the effect of depriving the House of the opportunity of giving a real consideration to important questions that are presented for decision. On these grounds I cannot accept the Amendment of the hon. Member, and I trust that the time which the House has already devoted to this matter on Friday last may be allowed to count in the more rapid disposal of the question now.
MR. GUILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) has alluded to the course which I took on Friday last in reference to this matter;but I think he has entirely forgotten what really occurred on that occasion. What happened was this. We were discussing, late at night, several Amendments to the latter part of Rule I. We had arrived at the Amendment of my noble Friend the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) and an Amendment to that Amendment. In the early part of the evening, somewhere about 8 or 9 o'clock, I stated what I had urged on the previous Tuesday—namely, that the Rule as drafted would be dangerous unless some Proviso were introduced into it to prevent safe, sound, and proper Amendments from being blocked out by the operation of the Rule in its original shape, which allowed one Member to propose the closure on an early Amendment and the Chair to sanction it as against all subsequent Amendments. I said then that after the Amendments had been disposed of I thought the Government might propose certain words which would meet that difficulty;and I added that if the Government did not do so I would try and draft an Amendment myself. What happened was this. I think we arrived at the point whether these words should be introduced at about half-past 12, and, having explained what I proposed to do, I move the words I suggested. How was my suggestion received? I was answered by my right hon. Friend the 386 Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, not having in his hand the words on the Paper, attributed to me in regard to the latter part of the Amendment a precisely opposite intention to that which I really had. He said—"How can the House ascertain whether an Amendment has been sufficiently discussed if that Amendment has not been before the House?" quite forgetting that the Amendment assumed that it would have been discussed in some other form. The House then got into a wrangle, which lasted for some time, and I thought that the best way out of it was to ask the House for leave to withdraw the Motion with a view to its being brought up afterwards and really discussed. That is the history of the matter. This Amendment is an important one, and I will now endeavour to say one or two words in order to show that the right hon. Gentleman has not appreciated our present position in approaching this subject. He said that it would be a new duty to impose on the Speaker or the Chairman that he should have to give reasons for any action which might be taken in connection with questions of closure. He laid great stress on that argument. But, Sir, what happens now? The existing Rule as to closure says that—When it shall appear to Mr. Speaker, or to the Chairman of Ways and Means, in a Committee of the Whole House, during any debate, that the subject has been adequately discussed, and that it is the evident sense of the House, or of the Committee, that the question be now put, he may inform the House or the Committee.That is to say, that under our present Rules neither the Speaker nor the Chairman of Committees can apply the closure-except by assigning a reason that "it is the evident sense of the House or of the Committee that the Question be now put," I think that the First Lord of the Treasury must have forgotten that the Speaker or Chairman is bound to assign a reason, and, therefore, that there is nothing novel in requiring the Speaker or the Chairman under this Rule to give a specific reason for any course of action he may think fit to pursue. Let me remind the House, as it has been extremely well put by the hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Mr. E. R. Russell), that we are dealing in this matter not with closure simply, but with exclusion. Closure means that when we have devoted adequate time to 387 the discussion of a particular question the debate should be brought to a close at once;whereas exclusion means that the House refuses to allow a question to be debated at all, and not oven to be put to the vote. Therefore, the two questions are totally different, and I think that we are bound, if the power of excluding any question from debate and division is given, to surround that power with certain obligations on the part of the Chair to state clearly why a particular Amendment is not to be put. This question is one which came up before;and I would remind the House of what took place in 1881, when the Urgency Rules, which were very stringent, were laid down, and when a question precisely analogous to the proposal now made arose. In regard to the Urgency Rules of 1881, in the first instance, Mr. Speaker Brand did not make any rule about clauses in Committee on a Bill. But on the 17th of February he laid on the Table a number of additional Rules, one of which provided—I think it was the third—that Amendments and new clauses not yet disposed of in Committee on a Bill might be put forthwith, and if the proceedings of the Committee were not concluded, then the Chairman might leave the Chair and Report the Bill to the House. Therefore, under the Rule of Urgency it was laid down most carefully on the part of Mr. Speaker Brand that every question must be put before the Committee had concluded its labours. But on the following day Sir Stafford Northcote, who appeared not to have been quite satisfied with that Rule, believing that it did not give sufficient security for the consideration of all Amendments, came down to the House and used these words at the beginning of Business, He said that he hoped the Speaker would alter the Rule of Urgency, because, as he pointed out—They understood from the Rules that, in the event of their adopting the Motion that it was intended to propose, it would be impossible for the House, after the hour of 12, not only to discuss, but even to vote upon any Amendments that had not before that been reached, even the ugh such an Amendment might have been long on the Paper, might be in itself of importance, and might involve matters that had not been touched by any previous Amendment."—(3 Hansard,  1236.)Sir Stafford Northcote, in spite of what at first sight were the clear words laid down by Mr. Speaker Brand, considered 388 it necessary on behalf of his Party to provide, as an absolute necessity, that all Amendments, whether they had been reached or not, should be dealt with before the Urgency Rule was applied. Mr. Speaker Brand on the same day substituted a now Rule of Urgency, in which it was provided that Amendments and new clauses standing on the Taper should, after a stated hour, be put. That modification was satisfactory to the House, and under the se circumstances all the clauses of a Bill and substantial Amendments under the Urgency Rules were put. What I would ask the House now is this. Were not the Rules of Urgency satisfactory as to Amendments to clauses on the Paper, and why do the Government propose to introduce a much more drastic closure than that which was so provided for? In March, 1881, I find instances of a great number of Amendments being put without debate under the Rules of Urgency;but I cannot find any indication that such Amendments were either frivolous or vexatious,' or more in number than would be natural as Amendments to the clauses of a Bill. I know that in one case there were two, and in another three, Amendments to a particular clause;but the operation of the Rules of Urgency protected hon. Members in insisting that all Amendments should be put, and that provision was absolutely satisfactory I do not care about the exact words of the Amendment;but I had hoped that the House would introduce into the present Rule a safeguard something like that which is now proposed, and, as I have shown, they will be acting in accordance with the decision arrived at under Rules of Urgency. I trust that the hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow will persevere in his Amendment.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr.)
I wish to express my astonishment at the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), that it would be a novel practice for the Speaker of the House to give a reason for enforcing the clôture. Let me recall to the recollection of the House what occurred three or four nights ago when you applied the clôture to a Motion proposed by the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) for the adjournment of the House. On that occasion you distinctly stated that 389 you did so because you considered the Motion to be an abuse of the Rules of the House. The right hon. Gentleman and his supporters loudly cheered that announcement on the part of the Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the judicial action of the Chair in stopping speeches of hon. Members of the House on various occasions. Certainly that has occurred, and in doing so, Sir, you have distinctly declared from the Chair the reason why you have done so. For instance, you have said, "I have warned the hon. Member that he was wandering from the subject, and as he is continuing the same irrelevancy I call upon him to resume his seat." Personally, I cannot recall a single instance from my own experience in which the Chair has intervened in order to enforce the closure without expressing the reason why such extraordinary action was taken by the Chair. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury does not understand the full meaning of this Amendment. As a matter of fact, it carries out the object which the right hon. Gentleman professes to devise—namely, it stops unreasonable Amendments, while permitting substantial and reasonable Amendments to be proposed.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH (Hants, Basingstoke)
I wish to point out that the Amendment is rather inconsistent with what the House has already decided—namely, that the intervention of the Speaker or the Chairman should be changed from giving assent or being a party to the Motion for the closure into a mere veto. The Amendment would practically bring back the Speaker or the Chairman into the arena, and make him a party to the whole proceeding in regard to the closure;and, after the decision which the House has already arrived at on that point, I cannot consistently vote for the Amendment.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON (Lancashire, Rossendale)
I think that the adoption of the Amendment would introduce a most unfortunate confusion into the language of the Rule, which ought to be, above all things, clear, simple, and intelligible. It would introduce into the Rule the term "abuse of the Rules of the House" twice, and in different senses;and, further, I do not think that the Amendment would effect what its advocates desire. It would not 390 really give any protection to hon. Members who might wish to move Amendments. I cannot admit that the Rule as it now stands is more drastic than the Urgency Rule of 1881. The operation of the Urgency Rule of 1831 was that at a certain date and hour we should practically conclude the consideration of a Bill in Committee, and then all Amendments on the Bill, whether important or trivial, are to be put and decided upon, but without debate—that is to say, that discussion on what might be most important Amendments is excluded. It has been said that the operation of that Rule is perfectly satisfactory;but I ask hon. Members below the Gangway whether they think it is a satisfactory Rule, and whether it would afford them any substantial satisfaction to be able to vote upon Amendments that are put without any discussion? That appears to me to be a far more drastic Rule than the one we are now considering. What I think the Mover of the Amendment really moans is that the Chairman should prohibit the closure Motion unless he is able to make the declaration proposed to be required of him. Now, I cannot admit that there is on the part of hon. Members an inherent right of moving an indefinite number of Amendments any more than there is an inherent right of the indefinite prolongation of discussion. The House has a right to the disposal of its own time and to the conduct of its own Business, and the majority, with certain safeguards, not only have a right to stop discussion, but to state the conditions on which Amendments should be proposed. Whether the right of the House to dispose of its own time and to manage its Business in its own way is more struck at by the undue prolongation of debate or by undue Amendments to a Bill is rather a question of degree than of principle;but, I think that we are not likely to obtain the results we are endeavouring to secure by this Rule if we allow its operation to be limited as the Amendment proposes. That Amendment goes in the opposite direction to the line taken in the discussion up to the present time by my right hon. Friends on this Bench. Their object up till now has been to make the closure more simple and more effective, and at the same time to relieve the Chair from any unnecessary new responsibility. But that 391 Amendment would vendor the closure loss effective and less simple, and would east upon the Chair a new responsibility in having to make a declaration which the Chair is not now called on to make. Instructions have already been given to the Chair as to the mode in which it is to exercise the veto conferred on it;and I do not believe that either greater protection would be afforded to the minority or greater power given to the House for the due conduct of its Business if we seek further to fetter the Chair by requiring it to make the declaration contemplated by this Amendment.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I understand the noble Marquess the Member for Rossondale to argue that the House and the Speaker together may prevent the House from discussing an Amendment, although that Amendment may not be an abuse of the Forms of the House, and al-though it raises a perfectly new question, which has not been discussed. But then, says the noble Marquess, the object of the New Rule is to relieve the Speaker of responsibility;and you are now proposing to give him a new responsibility. Upon that basis, I con-tend that the noble Marquess is bound to vote for the Amendment, because, as a matter of fact, it relieves the Speaker of an immense responsibility. What is the Speaker to do? He is now made the sole authority, whether the Amendment proposed is reasonable or unreasonable, frivolous or not frivolous, and he may expose himself to unpopularity and dislike;and it is impossible to say whether that unpopularity and dislike may, or may not, be justified. The logical consequence of the doctrine laid down by the noble Marquess would be the millennium that is looked forward to by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere),who thinks that when a question has been the roughly discussed in the country, half-an-hour would suffice for its discussion in the House. I should be much surprised to find that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury is prepared to accept the doc-trine put forward by the noble Marquess. I cannot say that I assent to the description which has been given of this Amendment by the First Lord of the Treasury. He has said that in principle it was fully discussed on Friday night. Now, I never heard an im- 392 portant Amendment discussed with more brevity. The attention of the House was entirely taken up with the question of adjournment;and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gosehen) took part in the discussion, without understanding the terms of the Amendment, and succeeded in entirely misrepresenting its character. As a matter of fact, no discussion at all took place upon the Amendment, except the few words with which the right hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) prefaced his observations. I am certainly surprised at the way in which the Amendment has been received by the noble. Marquess. I look upon it as a perfectly reasonable Amendment;and I should have expected that it would have received the support of the Government. My contention is that no Amendment ought to be excluded from discussion if it raises any now question of principle. It is intended to make the Speaker the sole authority to decide whether an Amendment is reasonable or frivolous. Thus, without assigning any reason, he might sweep a number of Amendments off the Paper. No Speaker can discharge such duties without incurring the dislike, and even the hatred, of a section of the Members of the House.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
As the Rule now stands, important Amendments may never be put at all;and the object of the proposal of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. E. R. Russell) is to secure that all Amendments, as far as possible, shall be submitted to the judgment of the House, and not be excluded altogether from discussion without the House having had an opportunity of arriving at a definite decision in regard to them. If we had an undertaking from the Government that Amendments would not be choked off, I might be satisfied to allow the Rule to go through as it is;but, as I have no such assurance, I think I am entitled to press for the acceptance of the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow, and I believe, further, that it would have been a great misfortune if it had not been moved tonight. When the Amendment was under discussion the other evening, only two speeches were made;and it was withdrawn not on account of the unwilling- 393 ness of the right hon. Gentleman the;Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) to put it, but on account of the impossibility of getting a fair discussion at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. The position of the Chair having been reduced to the mere imposition of a veto is one reason why the Chairman refuses to interpose his veto, and to give his reason for doing so. But the whole system of closure is altered by these Rules;because, instead of the initiation of the closure resting with the Chair, the initiation is now placed in the hands of any Member of the House, who may not happen to be a Member of the Goment, but simply an irresponsible private Member. Under such circumstances, it is only fair and just that the Speaker, or the Chairman, should have the opportunity of stating whether his assent is withheld or not, and of assigning the reason. At present, there is no obligation on the part of the Chair to assign a reason for giving or withholding his sanction;and the consequence would be that, in the event of any misunderstanding, the conduct of the Chair would be constantly exposed to misconstruction. I think my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) has shown that the Rule might be applied with drastic effect, and that there would be no safety for any Amendment, however important. The noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) combatted that theory. He stated that under this Rule there are undoubtedly great theoretical powers. We know that, and we also know that they will be used to the fullest extent whenever it suits the object of the Government to put them in force. Therefore, what we want is some safeguard against the misuse of these theoretical powers, and we desire to impose a legitimate limitation upon them. Let every Member understand the roughly that individual Members will not be allowed to push the Rules to their theoretical extreme, and that they will never be used in any emergency in a way that would be palpably contrary to their real spirit. I think the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow is admirably adapted to 6eeure that end.
§ MR. GEDGE (Stockport)
Notwithstanding the discussion which has taken 394 place. I remain of the same opinion as that which I expressed the other night. The Amendment itself is inconsistent with what the House is doing. It requires the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees to explain his reasons for the course he proposes to take, and he is not to be allowed to put the Question unless he goes out of his way to say something about the Amendment. The answer to the objections of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) is this—we must assume that the whole of the se Rules will have brought to bear upon them the common sense of the Chair. The case has been mentioned of a clause with a considerable number of sub-sections. In such a case is it to be supposed that the Speaker or Chairman would allow a decision upon the 1st sub-section to rule out Amendments on the 2nd and 3rd sub-sections and the whole of the se which followed, even when, as is suggested, they relate to different matters? We have hither to been careful to render it unnecessary for the-Speaker or the Chairman to do anything except in the case of withholding his consent. The Amendment would oblige the Speaker or Chairman to explain his reasons for doing nothing, and, therefore, I hope that the Amendment will be negatived.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 146;Noes 215: Majority 69.—(Div. List, No. 62.)
§ MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)
The next Amendment stands in my name—namely, to insert at the end of line 12, the words—Provided always, That, in Committee of Supply, when a Vote is under consideration, and to the particular items of which more than one Notice of Amendment has been given, if, after discussion on one of such items, the rule for closing that discussion is put in force, the fact of its adoption shall not be held to apply to Amendments the other sub-items of that Vote.I may explain that my object is to pre-vent the application of the closure in Committee of Supply from excluding all discussion upon items in a Vote which were not readied until after the application of the Rule on an Amendment to a preceding item. If there is one part of our duty as Members of Parliament which is more essential than another, it is that of considering questions relating to the expenditure of the country in Committee of Supply. Hon. Members 395 are aware that in Committee of Supply a certain Vote is brought forward—it may be for£100,000, but it is made up of some 10 or 12 items, and what I want to guard against is that the machinery of these Rules shall be applied to the closure of the discussion upon one item, and shall act as a closure upon the discussion of every remaining item.
In line 12, at end, to insert the words, "Provided always, That, in Committee of Supply, when a Vote is under consideration, and to the particular items of which more than one Notice of Amendment has been given, if, after discussion on one of such items, the Rule for closing that discussion is put in force, the fact of its adoption shall not be held to apply to Amendments to the other sub-items of that Vote."—(Mr. Dillwyn.)
§ Question proposed, "That the se words be there inserted."
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)
I wish that the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) had expressed a little more fully the object he has in view in proposing this Amendment, seeing that the actual words which constitute the Amendment are somewhat vague. I presume that his object is simply to prevent the Rule from being applied, so as to exclude the discussion of all the items contained in any Vote which may be submitted in Committee of Supply. Now, I think it would be a very regrettable incident if substantial Amendments to a Vote were to be shut out in consequence of the application of the cloture to a preceding item;but I wish to point out that in regard to the first Vote of the Army Estimates, which was under consideration last night, it contains no less that 164 items. The hon. Member, as far as I understand his Amendment, desires that after an Amendment has been disposed of to the first of these items, it shall be competent to move Amendments upon the subsequent 163 items. It is quite possible, as Lord Beaconsfield once observed, that two determined men might render the whole work of Committee of Supply hopeless, and really exclude, for an almost indefinite period, the possibility of getting more than the first item of the Vote. Not only so, but two Amendments might be moved on each item;one to reduce the amount, and the other to omit the item altogether;and, 396 consequently, we might have 326 Amendments discussed upon the first Vote in the Army Estimates alone. Is it not better to trust to the common sense of the Chairman of "Ways and Means to protect us against an interminable and useless discussion, which might otherwise take place? We have been told that exclusion is a novelty;but, as a matter of principle, exclusion is no novelty. It is an old and well known practice, to which frequent recourse has been had, by submitting to the judgment of the House the Previous Question. If the Previous Question is carried, it is impossible for any subsequent Amendment to be moved. Therefore, the principle of exclusion is one of the recognized practices of the House.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I am surprised to find that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) objects to the principle of this Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) has already accepted the Amendment of the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), which places restrictions upon the application of the closure to the clauses of a Bill, and which provides against all the subsequent Amendments to a clause being closured by the fact of the closure being applied to a previous Amendment. The effect of the Rule as it now stands would be to leave it open to the Chair to shut out discussion on any item in Supply, however important it might be, when there are a great many Amendments which hon. Members wish to move. If that is so, it is important that there should be some restriction on the closure in the case of items discussed in Committee of Supply. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General says that if we adopt this Amendment we shall practically do away with closure altogether. I entirely dispute that statement of the right hon. Gentleman. The adoption of the closure in the first place would prevent bogus Amendments on the particular item under discussion, and it would shut out any discussion upon items of the Vote to which no notice of Amendment had been given. I do not see how it is possible that we can consent to shut out discussion on the items of Supply to which notice of Amendment has been given, and which are bonâ. fide. I hope 397 after the Division which has taken place, which shows how substantial a feeling there is in the House on this subject, that the right hon. Gentleman will give way, and that if the present Amendment is unsatisfactory as to form, that he will move an Amendment of his own which goes in the same direction. I think I may appeal to my noble Friend below me (the Marquess of Hartington) to use his influence, which I know is paramount with the Government, in favour of the Amendment of my hon. Friend. The noble Marquess has already obtained a relaxation of the Rule in respect of the clauses of Bills, and I trust he will also secure for the House similar relaxation with regard to Amendments to Votes in Supply.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
The admission that has come from the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) is one which justifies every word that was said in favour of the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Childers);and I say that it also justifies everything that will be said on these Benches, even if the discussion now going on is continued until 12 o'clock. The Committee of Supply affords to private Members the only chance they have of bringing forward grievances, and there is a clear distinction in that respect as between Committee of Supply and Committee on a Bill. It is not open to hon. Members on other occasions to direct attention to the grievances of which their constituents complain;but this one chance of private Members is now to be swept away by a Rule which is now admitted to be nothing else than the power to exclude any Amendments which private Members have to propose. It seems to be assumed that there has been too much discussion on Votes in Supply. But I venture to say, Mr. Speaker, that there has never yet been sufficient discussion on any branch of Government Business in this House. Take the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General himself;in the Vote discussed last night, he said there were 25 sub-heads and 161 items. And one night is considered sufficient for that!If that is the idea of sufficient discussion which exists in the Government mind, I will say no more on the point than that it differs very greatly from the ideas of other hon. 398 Members of the House. I regard the present Amendment as the most important of any that have yet been brought forward to this Rule, and I say that it demands the most serious attention of every hon. Member of the House, who cannot be too much impressed with the fact that, if it is not carried, they cannot hope for any opportunity hereafter of bringing forward the grievances of their constituents. I say that the admission of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General is most important. It is clear that this Rule is equivalent to moving the Previous Question, and I, say it is giving the power to a Minister at the head of a majority in this House to exclude Amendments in Supply from discussion. The Government have dealt, up to the present stage of the discussion, chiefly in assumptions. It is assumed that the Chairman and the majority of the House in Committee of Supply can do no wrong;but I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury on the change which has come over his opinion since 1882, when he held that a Chairman of Committees might possibly commit all sorts of irregularities.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
I do not see that any difference can be maintained as between Amendments to clauses of Bills and Amendment in Committee of Supply. In the case of Bills there is a logical connection between the clause and the Amendments;but there is no such logical connection between Amendments and the Vote in Supply;and, therefore, to say that because the closure should apply to one item in Supply it should also apply to another, is a connection which I fail to see. Take the Vote for the Transport Department of the Army Service;Sub-head G is an item of£10,000 for police at Woolwich;but the last item in the list is a charge on account of Cyprus of£80. Now, it might happen that, although it might be reasonable that discussion on the Woolwich Vote should come to an end, it would be perfectly monstrous to say that no discussion should take place with regard to the Cyprus Vote, which might involve a question of the utmost importance. The Rule, as proposed by the Government, is, as I understand, not to limit debate, but to prevent discussion on whatever question may be disagreeable to the majority. A more 399 ingenious way of preventing discussion could not possibly be devised. For private Members this kind of closure simply means annihilation, for it is only upon Votes in Supply that they can bring their grievances before the House. I agree with the principle of closure;I think that the House ought to have the most stringent powers for managing its own Business;and that, however unreasonable it may seem, the majority should have power to put an end to debate. But I regard this principle of exclusion of discussion as a very dangerous one. After all the great function of this House is not so much legislation as the control of the Government, and in this respect this House differs from similar assemblies in other parts of the world;and I am convinced that if we do not watch with the greatest jealousy the proposals of the Government, We may find that the power of discussing items of Supply has been seriously endangered. Another point is, that if there is to be any advance in the direction of economy, it can only be made by the discussion of details;and that in itself is an argument which ought to commend this Amendment to the approval of the House.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
The Government, in my opinion, ought logically to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn). We have already decided by the acceptance of the Amendment of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) that the closure shall be limited to a single clause in a single Bill. The clause of a Bill is a very different thing from a Vote in Supply. Take the case of a Minister asking for a Vote of£500,000 on account of the Civil Service. Each of the items in the Vote are in themselves infinitely of more importance than nine-tenths of the Bills which pass through the House in the Session;and yet, while limiting the closure to clauses of Bills, the Government refuse to limit it in the case of Supply. I certainly expected that the Government would make the same concession with regard to Supply as they have made with regard to clauses of the smallest Bill that may come before the House, and I shall, of coarse, vote with the hon. Member for Swansea when We go to a Division.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
I support this Amendment in the spirit in which I have always supported Amendments tending to preserve the rights and privileges of hon. Members of this House. It has been pointed out, and it is an unanswerable argument, that no matter how important may be the power of moving a clause to a Bill, or of moving an Amendment to a clause of a Bill, the right of every hon. Member of the House of Commons to move Amendments in Committee of Supply is of far more importance. It is one of the great historical rights belonging to the Members of this House, and if the House of Commons at the present day occupies a proud position, it is because Members of the House have insisted on exercising this power in dark and troublesome times. In view of the high position which this House has always taken up with regard to Supply, We have a right to expect that Her Majesty's Government should give some support to this very important Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General says that by accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) we should practically exclude Committee of Supply from the operation of the Rule, and the right hon. Gentleman tried to prove his point by quoting a saying of Lord Beaconsfield, to the effect that two determined men could put a stop to Constitutional Government by debating every item of Supply. But can it be supposed that any two Members, or 20 Members, would so degrade the Committee of the House in the eyes of the country by pursuing so ridiculous and senseless a course? The idea is one which no man of business habits would entertain. To my great surprise, the Postmaster General, in reply to the hon. Member for Swansea, says, with an air of nonchalance, delightful to see—""We do not intend any encroachment on the liberty of the House by applying the closure in Committee of Supply." But, Sir, he contradicts his own statement when he refuses to accept the Amendment before the Committee. If We have not the protection which is afforded by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea, it will be practically in the power of the Government of the day, after a few items have been taken in Supply, to bring the whole discussion to 401 an end by pressing for this Rule of Closure, and, having got it, shut out every Member who may have wished to speak upon another portion of the Vote. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) made a stand for economy in the expenditure of the public funds. Time alone will show whether he was justified in resigning his position in the Government on the ground that he could not get that economy carried out;but it is quite as essential that private Members of the House, sent here, as the great Radical Party are, to represent constituencies of working men, should exercise their right to examine the details under the subheads of all the Votes that come before the Committee of Supply. I cannot see that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General has given us any satisfactory answer to the case put forward in behalf of this Amendment, so very briefly and, at the same time, so ably proposed by the hon. Member for Swansea.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITUCIHE) (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
It has occurred to me, having listened to this discussion, to put it to the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn)that his Amendment is quite unnecessary. I understand the Proviso to mean that if the closure be moved upon a particular item in the Vote, the decision come to by the House upon Division shall not be held to apply to subsequent Amendments. But, Sir, it does not do so. If the hon. Member looks at the Rule on the Paper he will find it stated on the first page that the House has already decided that—When the Motion 'That the Question he now put,' has Leon carried, and the Question consequent thereon has been decided, any further Motion may be made (the assent of the Chair as aforesaid not having been withheld) which may be requisite to bring to a decision any Question already proposed from the Chair.Suppose that an Amendment that a reduced sum shall be granted instead of the amount asked for was the Question before the Committee. If it seemed to any hon. Member that the discussion has been adequate, and that the House ought to be allowed to come to a decision, he would rise and move that the closure shall be applied. It is perfectly true, after the closure has 402 been applied, that a Minister or any hon. Member can move the closure to the Original Question;but unless some such Motion is made and carried, the next Question, as will be evident to the House, would be the following Amendment en the Paper. If that be so, it is clear that the object which the hon. Member desires to secure is secured by the present Rule. If it is desired to apply the closure to the Original Question, which would be the Vote itself, then the consent of the Chairman will have to be obtained, and the Chairman will have to consider whether such Motion is an infringement of the rights of minorities or an abuse of the Rules of the House. If this be so, I submit that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea is not quite in Order, because that what it provides has already been agreed to by the House.
§ MR. DIXON (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
It seems to me that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) is in conflict with that of the right hon. Gentlemen the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie). The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General said that there might be 163 Amendments upon a particular Vote. I assume that the se Amendments would have been already on the Paper;and, if so, are We to understand that they may be moved and debated?
§ MR. RITCHIE
Unless the closure was moved and the consent of the Chair obtained that the closure should be put to the Committee with reference to the whole Vote.
§ MR. DIXON
I do not know how that would be;but. according to the language of the Postmaster General, there may be a large number of Amendments, many of which he, of course, assumes are put on the Paper for the purpose of delay. But the right hon. Gentleman must admit that a certain number of them would be justifiable, and therefore deserving discussion. Now, the difficulty is this. How are we to be assured that justifiable Amendments are not to be excluded? If the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would assure the House, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has assured us, that there is no intention to exclude the se allowable and justifiable Amend- 403 ments, then I shall be disposed to do what I Lave hitherto done, that is to vote with the Government. I confess, however, I do not see my way to do so at present.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
My right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) has explained to the House exactly what the situation is with reference to the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), and his remarks, I believe, were entirely in accordance with what has been stated by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes). The Amendment of the hon. Member assumes that the fact of the closure having been applied to one Amendment would exclude all the other Amendments, and to that my right hon. Friend replied that the application of the closure to one Amendment would not be hold to extend to other Amendments. It is not the intention of the Government that it should be so extended to other Amendments on a Vote in Committee of Supply. The intention of the Government is that the question should remain open, and that further Amendments should be discussed;but the power is undoubtedly given, if—as my right hon. Friend the Postmaster General suggests—there are 163 Amendments on the Paper, a largo number of which are frivolous, to make a further Motion with the consent of the Chair, when, if the Motion is not withdrawn, the closure would apply. The point is that there is no intention of any kind on the part of the Government that the discussion on one Amendment should exclude discussion on another;but the closure may, of course, be put unless the Chairman withholds his consent, on the ground that the Motion is either an infringement of the rights of the minority or an abuse of the Rules of the House.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I have always thought that the precautions to be adopted with reference to Amendments to a clause should be in excess of the precautions and safeguards to be adopted with reference to proceedings in the Whole House, where there is only one Main Question and one Secondary Question in the nature of an Amendment to the Main Question. We are now considering the case of a Vote 404 in Committee of Supply, and endeavouring to guard against cutting off bonéfide Motions for the reduction of the Vote, or bonéfide discussions on the items of which the Vote may be composed. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) says that it is not the intention of the Rule to prevent such Motions being put. But he says that we may have 163 Amendments put down to a Vote in Supply for the purpose of Obstruction, and that, therefore, we are bound to moot the case in some way so as to prevent Obstruction arising out of such proceedings. I submit that, in endeavouring to closure such anticipated Obstruction, the right hon. Gentleman does a great deal more. By the method he has devised he cannot moot Obstruction of that Kind without killing out bonéfide discussers of the Vote. It necessarily follows that, if such Obstruction be resorted to of putting down, say, 20 Amendments against different items of a Vote, the result would be that, if you proceeded to closure the first of the se Obstructive Amendments, the bonéfide Motions further on against the same Vote would be clôtured also. I ask the Government whether that is not a fair representation of the case? The result would simply be that, by closing debate on the first or succeeding Motion for the reduction of a Vote, you will be preventing debate altogether on subsequent bonéfide Motions for reduction. You fail in this case in your endeavours to prevent obstructive proceedings;you fail to give fair play or freedom of debate on clauses of a Bill or on a Vote in Committee of Supply;and this will show the Government that some additional protection is necessary in reference to Committee of Supply. May it not be better to give the Chairman, power to sort out Amendments, supposing that the Chair considers there are obstructive Amendments on the Paper? What is the objection to giving to the Chair power to refuse to put Amendments? In that way you would safeguard the rights of bonéfide debaters who are desirous of moving, later on, Amendments to a Vote. Again, it will be possible, under this Rule, for a series of Obstructionist Members to place a number of Amendments on the Paper to a Vote in Supply before a bonéfide Motion can come on later, and by that moans prevent its being discussed by forcing 405 the Government, or the se in charge of the Business of the House, to move the closure. In that way a bonéfide Motion for the reduction of the Vote would be killed out. I think, Sir, that this is a very important question. You have not provided, with reference to a clause, to give any extra power to the Chair to sort out and discriminate between obstructive and other Amendments, so as to allow the se which are not obstructive to come on;and I must say that this is a very serious blot on your new Rule, and which will, in my opinion, have very injurious effects as regards freedom of debate. I think the picture of Obstruction which the Government have presented to the House is very much overdrawn. There is no foundation for it with regard to this section of Members of the House. Take our action with regard to this first Rule—we have only moved up to the present time 16 Amendments, of which only 14 have been taken to a Division, and I say that in providing safeguards against such action as that, you practically provide safeguards against dangers which have no existence. I believe the Government will some day bitterly regret the course which they are taking. In their eagerness to obtain the means of excluding bonéfide discussion on their contemplated Irish Coercion Bill, they are fashioning a weapon which, although it will strike down innocent Amendments, cannot possibly forward the Business of the country.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I venture to say that the speeches of the right hon. Gentlemen the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) are totally inconsistent. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board declares that there is no such power in the Rule as that against which the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) is aimed, whereas the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that the power may be made to apply;but that it exists theoretically in the Chair. The power against which my hon. Friend moved his Amendment does undoubtedly exist, and the question is whether the Amendment of my hon. Friend would have the precise effect which he himself desires. The right hon. Gentleman the 406 President of the Local Government Board is incorrect in saying that there is not such power in the Rule as it stands. The words are—When the Motion 'that the Question be now put,' has been carried, and the Question consequent thereon has been decided, any further Motion may be made (the assent of the Chair, as aforesaid, not having been withheld) which may be requisite to bring to a decision any Question already proposed from the Chair.Now, the only two Questions which can be proposed at all are the Vote on the Paper or that a reduced sum be granted to Her Majesty's Government. One of these Amendments being disposed of—the closure—the next Motion would be that the Main Question be put. If that is carried, the remainder of the Amendments are clòtured, and therefore I say that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea is directed at what is already in the Rule. I do not think the Amendment would necessarily have the effect of insuring a discussion on each item brought before the House or the Committee. The Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) is directed to Votes in Supply, and I need not remind the House of the great importance of considering questions of detail in Committee, and of regarding them with much greater scrutiny than ordinary Questions in Committee, or than ordinary Questions which arise on measures in other stages. Questions in Committee of Supply really constitute the only necessary Business of Parliament. After voting Supply, the Government may close up the Parliament, or rather postpone its sitting, and there is no law to compel them to bring forward legislation, which is only a secondary concern. Everyone knows that the country could get on very well without legislation. Questions brought forward in Committee, and questions brought forward at other times, stand on totally different grounds, and this is the reason why the consideration of details in Committee of Supply should be more carefully guarded than the consideration of the ordinary stages of Bills. That is the reason why I am anxious to safeguard our proceedings in Committee of Supply against unfair application of the Clòture Rule. If the Rule is allowed to stand as it is proposed, a Government will be able, practically, to close the discussion upon the Esti- 407 mates, and press forward enormous Votes hurriedly, and without giving time for discussion. On this very point Ministers display a most astonishing inconsistency, because this was a point they insisted upon in 1882 with great vehemence and skill;and I have no doubt that if hon. Gentlemen opposite happened to sit in Opposition, they would hold similar views to mine to-night. It is merely because hon. Members opposite sit where they do, and consider themselves bound to bring forward some measure to facilitate the progress of Business, that they consider they ought to adopt the line of action of the Government of 1882. I would point out that it is impossible in Committee to bring forward an Amendment similar to one which has been already disposed of. There is no inherent right of moving an interminable number of Amendments in Committee. The Chairman already possesses power to limit the number of Amendments proposed, and he can rule out Amendments which he considers frivolous. I submit, therefore, that if a Member were to come forward and put down an enormous number of Amendments to a single Vote—say, 100 or 130—probably more than half, or even four-fifths, of the se Amendments would be ruled out of Order, as clashing with each other. Therefore, to talk about the possibility of an hon. Member putting down an enormous number of Amendments is simply begging the question. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) is a high authority on Procedure, having filled the position of Chairman of Ways and Means for many years, and he must know that we are right on the present occasion. He must acknowledge to himself that he is endeavouring to evade the issue by imagining a state of facts which cannot arise. The fact of his assuming that an enormous number of Amendments will be put down in Committee is the clearest possible proof that we are right and that he is wrong. We know that the Government voted over£4,000,000 last night in the course of a very few minutes;and, as a matter of fact, it is very seldom that we have protracted discussions in Committee of Supply. During the whole time I have been here, I remember very few occasions on which such a thing has happened. I do, however, remember on one occasion a protracted debate 408 taking place upon a small item, at the instance, I believe, of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill). The question raised was with reference to the execution of a certain Egyptian, accused of incendiaries in Alexandria. The life of this man depended upon the decision of the Committee, and the question was a critical one, inasmuch as the execution was fixed to take place within 24 hours of the night on which the discussion occurred. The debate was continued for a considerable time, although without particular advantage to the person principally interested. There may be occasions in the future, however, when the extension of debates on similar questions would be attended with different results, and we have hero a clear reason why debates of this kind should not be unduly restricted. No doubt it is to the interest of the Government to limit discussions in Committee of Supply. Every Government is anxious to do that;but we recognize the fact that the Opposition has certain rights, and that if we allow a Government to get Votes too easily, once they get the money they will do as they like, and care nothing for what we may say. It is because We claim our right to discuss Votes in Committee of Supply with full freedom—although We do not wish to exercise that right to any excess—that we shall vote for the Amendment. It will not secure us the full measure of freedom that We desire;but it will, no doubt, have some effect in that direction.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
I labour under some difficulty as I have not hoard the speech in which the Amendment now before the House was proposed, nor the arguments of the Government in opposition to the Amendment—although these latter have been represented to me as meagre enough. I find in this Amendment one word which, is objectionable—namely, the word "Notice" of Amendment. Speaking with very little knowledge of Parliamentary practice, I may say I think that "Notice" means "put down in the ordinary way." To my mind, Amendments of very far-reaching consequence have frequently been proposed to this House without Notice. If the hon. Member had eliminated the word "Notice" from the Amendment, it would have been possible for me to have given 409 his proposal a more the rough support. I do not suppose the hon. Member attaches much importance to the word, his desire being' to prevent Amendments being disposed of in a blind and informal manner. To show the necessity of this Amendment, I would ask the House to consider what the effect of the Rule as it is proposed might be in relation to the passing of the Vote for the Royal Irish. Constabulary the Main Question would ha that a sum of£1,412,315 be voted for the Irish Constabulary. There are a number of sub-heads under this Vote. There is, for instance, item "A" which relates to salaries. Well, I do not suppose anyone in this House, Irish or otherwise, would ever raise the point that the salaries of the Royal Irish Constabulary are either inadequate or superfluous. I do not remember anyone in this House over saying that the Irish Constabulary are paid too much, nor do I remember any advocate of the Constabulary alleging that they are paid too little. During my experience hero, I have been very intimately interested—at any rate as a listener—in this Vote, and I do not remember anyone, on either side of the House, ever having raised a point as to the salaries of the Irish Constabulary. No one can say they are paid too much. If we want such a Force, the men must be paid fair salaries—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not entitled to discuss the question of the Irish Constabulary on this Amendment.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON
I will not discuss that matter, Sir;but if you will allow me, I will suppose, by way of illustration, that the Vote relating to the Irish Constabulary was under discussion. No one would object to the item for salaries, but later on, under sub-head ''R" for Transport Service, some hon. Member might have an important discussion to raise, and I wish to know from the Government what opportunity he would have of raising such a discussion under the Rule as it is proposed to pass it? One of the first formal items of the Vote may have been discussed by some English, Scotch, or Welsh Member, who has chosen to take advantage of his privilege as a Member of this House and as a guardian of the public revenues. A discussion of inordinate length may have occurred, and under 410 such circumstances, I ask now will it be possible for us to reach the vital parts of the Vote? In referring to this particular Vote, Sir, I did not wish to enter into the merits or demerits of the Irish Constabulary Vote, or the merits or demerits of any of its items. I should be sorry to cross such an important discussion as the present with lengthy reference to any particular Vote relating to Ireland;but my strongest point is this—how can we have any guarantee that after a tedious discussion upon an unimportant item to which the cloture has been applied, the points we desire to raise and upon which we desire to hear the opinion of the Committee expressed, will not be blotted out by the application of the cloture? I would ask the Chairman of Committees, whether it is not his experience that the practical discussion of a Vote takes place upon the sub-items? Last time I spoke in this House, I was incorrectly reported upon this very point. I was represented to have said that the clauses of the Bill are sometimes more important than the Bill itself. I did not say that;what I said was—and I say it again, the ugh it looks like a paradox—the discussion on a particular clause of a Bill may often be a more important discussion than that on the Bill itself. In the same way a discussion on a sub-item of a Vote may frequently be of more importance than what is called "the general discussion" of the Vote itself. I believe sub-heads "A," "B," "C," of the Irish Constabulary Vote would be carried nem. con., and yet there are many subsequent items in the Vote—for instance, that of£200 for Police Escort and Conveyance of Children to Industrial Schools—upon which really important and serious discussions might be raised. I assert that more than three-fourths of the items in the Irish Constabulary Vote would be passed without demur by both sides of the House. Under the circumstances I do not think We are going too far in again and again impressing on the Government the necessity of making some provision by which, the ugh a Vote may be substantially given to them without discussion or demur, We should have some power and privilege of discussing items in which we may be especially interested. The Government so arrange these Votes in Committee of Supply, that they really get the money they require under the first two or three sub-heads, 411 and leave us to discuss their policy upon remaining items: and what we object to is, that in giving them the money, We should also give up all grasp and grip upon them. I do not expect the Government will assent to the Amendment of my hon. Friend. They have not assented to any Amendment which has come from this side. ["Yes!"] If anyone can show me the contrary, I will sit down at once. No doubt they did yield to the noble Marquess on this side (the Marquess of Hartington);but it strikes me that their's was the sort of obedience that a child yields to its father. The noble Marquess leads in the same way that a person may be said to lead by having hold of the rope that is attached to the ring that passes through the nose of a bull. The rope is in the hands of the noble Marquess;it is tied to the ring, and the ring is in the nose of the Government, and the Government must come whenever the noble Marquess pulls the rope. Why, I would ask, do not the Government find it worth their while to yield to the hon. Member for Swansea? The hon. Member does not occupy the position of the noble Marquess, or any position of authority;but he presents to the House a concrete and substantial Amendment which, if we could know the real minds of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, we should find they are the roughly in harmony with. I am afraid that whatever I say to Her Majesty's Government will have but a very transitory effect upon them, and will pass off like water dropping from a cluck's back. But I would venture to suggest to them that they should realize—and I am sure they have realized it already—the position in which we shall stand, when this Rule is passed, in relation to a Vote the sub-heads of which may be represented by the 26 letters of the alphabet, if a Member can be got to discuss one of the least important of them to the pitch of weariness. A Member on either side of the House may be prompted to do that by the Government themselves;for we do not know where their Supporters are not to be found. Their Supporters may be amongst hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, or amongst right hon. or hon. Members above the Gangway on this side of the House;it may be the Leader of the Irish Temperance Party above the Gang- 412 way on this side, or the Leader of the Catholic Tory Party below the Gangway opposite;but, from whatever quarter it may proceed, they will not find it difficult to got someone to bring about the application of cloture to an unimportant item of a Vote, and then they will be in a position to shut out discussion on all the remaining items. It must be remembered that the reason why a Member will rise and propose that a Vote shall be put to the House, will be because to his mind the subject has been adequately discussed, and because he wishes the House to pronounce upon that which he thinks there has been sufficient debate. The question is whether hon. Members should not have present to their minds the interest of the people who pay the taxes. One hon. Member may be satisfied that there has been sufficient debate, but We must remember that it is not that one hon. Member whose interests are at stake We must remember that we represent people who cannot come into this House, or even into Palace Yard to make a demonstration, in order to show you that they are dissatisfied with the way in which you are dealing with the Votes in Supply. We are tired of this discussion;and complaints have been made that some hon. Members are rendering it wearisome. Some hon. Members opposite may think that I am wearisome [Cries of "Hear, hear!" and counter cries of "No, no!"] There seems to be a divided opinion upon the matter. Who is to be the judge?
§ MR. SPEAKER
For the second time, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to speak more relatively to the subject before the House.
§ MR. EDWAKD HARRINGTON
Very well, Sir. Granted that the discussion has taken a wearisome turn, and that, as the result of that weariness, the cloture has been applied to a discussion, on an early part of the Vote, although there may be important Amendments on the Paper to remaining sub-heads, it will be within the competence of any Member to rise and propose that the whole Vote should be put. I do not know that I should be in Order in discussing the question of the constituted authority in the House at the moment that that Vote would be put from the Chair. It must never be forgotten that the question is 413 to be put by the Chairman of Committees, and it must never be forgotten that the Chairman of Committees is an official elected by the majority of the day, or, in other words, the Government. It must not be forgotten, therefore, that the Chairman is imbued with the spirit of the Government, which spirit is, to show as much work as possible to the nation.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E)
In supporting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea, I wish to say that I cannot help thinking that the Government have conceded something to the spirit of my hon. Friend's Amendment. It is strange, then, that We cannot come to a form of words to carry out what the Government and my hon. Friend mean. What perplexes my hon. Friend is the fear lest this Rule, as it stands, will prevent the House from discussing the various items of the Votes in Committee of Supply. Impressed as I am with the importance of leaving the House entire power over the expenditure of the country, I am anxious that on this point there should be no doubt;and I think it would be wise of the Government to meet my hon. Friend by adopting, at least, a portion of his words. I think they would find it easy to adopt words which would secure that the object he has in view should not be misunderstood. I understood the right hon. Gentleman the head of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) to say that the Government desire that there should be no misunderstanding with regard to this part of the Rule. If the Chairman has power to strike out all irrelevant Amendments, surely the Government, not desiring to strike out all the substantial Amendments, should have no hesitation in adopting words to make that perfectly clear. My experience in this House is that the House has not sufficient control over the expenditure of the country at present;and I think that any curtailment of the control they at present possess will be a great loss to the country and to the power of the House. The greatest function that this House has to fill is the guardianship of the expenditure of the country;and I, therefore, think that we should have the greatest facility for the discussion of questions of finance, so that the House may fulfil its highest function in regard 414 to the protection of the national purse. My great fear in regard to the application of this principle of cloture is that it will be brought into play in Committee of Supply in a way that will prevent the House from safeguarding the expenditure of the country. We are called upon, at half-past 1 o'clock in the morning, to Vote millions of money. That is not a proper way of doing Business;and I think that, if we are to have the cloture applied, the House will drift away from that control of expenditure which it ought to possess. On that ground, I shall support the Amendment of my hon. Friend, and I shall do so in the hope that, before it is put, the Government will moot us, and so alter the Rule as to make it clear that it shall not be obstructive to discussion.
§ MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)
There are one or two matters which I wish to call attention to in Committee of Supply;and one of them, I feel certain, will be squashed if this Rule is allowed to stand in its present shape—I refer to an item which comes on at a very strange place—namely, at the end of the Stationery Office Vote. I refer to the item for the translation of the Brehon Laws of Ireland. Last year, I called attention to the matter, but the discussion of the Stationery Vote had gone so far, and had been continued to such a late hour, that I was precluded from bringing the subject forward. I feel perfectly certain that that item which appears in the Estimate under the letter "Q," at the very end of the Stationery Office Vote will be held to be a frivolous matter when it is reached—seeing that under the Vote, many matters of general importance will have been discussed. I feel satisfied that if the attention of the Chairman is directed to any Amendment I may move, he will hold it to come under the head of frivolous Amendments. But the item is one of great interest, and has reference to a matter on which there is a great deal to be said, and on which I sincerely hope I shall be able to make some suggestions which the Government will be ready to accept. As I say, last year I had to drop the subject in Committee, and was obliged to refer to it on the Report stage. There is another matter in connection with the Vote—namely, the Royal Irish Academy—to which I should like to call attention;but, any Amendment with regard to which, I am 415 afraid, would be looked upon as frivolous, and would be shut out by some Cloture Motion. I mention these things as examples of what the House generally may consider small matters, but which, certain hon. Members may take a very deep interest in. I am afraid that the Government with the assent of the Chairman of Committees would be able to treat such discussion as frivolous. I believe that if the Amendment before the House were adopted, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would find that the efficiency of his Rule would remain unimpaired. What is the use of taking away from the House the privilege of discussing such items as I have mentioned? And yet I you propose to leave the power of taking away that privilege from hon. Members in the hands of the Chairman. You leave the Chairman a discretionary power that under this Rule, as framed, you will strike this privilege out of our hands without power of recovery, once the cloture is applied. The only argument urged by the Government against the Amendment was that, if it were adopted, every item in a vote would be used as a peg on which to hang an obstructive debate. I protest against that argument. The experience of the House is against such an assumption. The House has got along for a very long period, indeed, without a Rule of Procedure like this affecting Committee of Supply, yet, practically speaking, there has been no such thing as protracted discussion on any item. Members have had, up to the present moment, the power of raising obstructive discussions on Votes in Supply;how is it, then, that Such obstructive discussion has never taken place? What right has the Government to use that argument, when the experience of the House is against them? Therefore, I say that the argument of the Government is a perfectly illusory one, and, if I may say so, amounts to an impertinent one.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.):
The Conservative Party have taken refuge in silence on this Amendment.!"Hear, hear!"] They shout "Hear," hear!" and I believe that they are quite right in doing so. They have never been the advocates of economy, and have never tried to lower taxation. ["Hear, hear!"] One Conservative Member again cries "Hear, hear!" He and his 416 Friends are right to do what they can to fetter our discussion in Committee, because, under this Rule, they will be able to swell the Estimates. It is true that Conservative Members sometimes occupy a great deal of time in Committee. We had four excellent speeches from them last night;but they were not in favour of economy—on the contrary, every one of them was in favour of increasing the Estimates. But the object of this Amendment is to retain to the House the facilities we have for diminishing expenditure;and, no doubt, the Government, from their point of view, are right in not only refusing to answer our arguments, but in sitting in silence under the favour that reigns outside, and taking that which will enable them to pass over Amendments with a minimum of discussion. This new Rule will give a Conservative Government every opportunity for increasing the Expenditure of the country. It seems to me a remarkable thing that we should be, at the present moment, passing a Rule to stifle discussion on the items of the Estimates, seeing that only six weeks ago a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer resigned his position because he considered the Estimates were unduly swelled. We have it from that late Chancellor of the Exchequer that he was the only Member of the Government in favour of economy. Well, is it not strange that immediately after his resignation we find the Government proposing the cloture, and saying, when an Amendment is proposed, "We will take very good care to limit debate on the Estimates?" Who is it who has brought in this Amendment? It is not one of the Irish Members. Had it been an Irish Member, you would have said we bring it in because we want to obstruct. Who has over accused the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) of obstructing? He has always been a great authority on the Rules of the House, and has sat here patiently, Session after Session, doing his best in Committee of Supply to keep down the Expenditure of the country. I do not think any Conservative Member can say the same. The hon. Member has had a seat here for a very long time, and has made the best use of it, and I defy the Conservative Party to point out on their side of the House any Member who has attended so constantly, and 417 whose opinion deserves so much consideration as that of ray hon. Friend. Then, I think the Government choose a very singular day for the refusal of our appeal. We voted yesterday no less a sum than£4,000,000, and yet they are going to pass a Rule which will prevent us from discussing the items of Votes in Supply. No doubt it would be well to limit discussion upon many Votes—say, to two or three minutes, just to enable questions to be asked and answers to be returned by the Government. I approve of the limitation of speeches;but, at the same time, I think you ought never to stop the question in Supply—you ought never to stop any discussion upon any particular item. I admit that it is quite possible to call attention to any matter on Report;but I am persuaded that if we are clôtured in Committee, we shall be clôtured on the Report stage next day. It is a most dangerous and novel principle to introduce into the proceedings of the House of Commons, that a Minister can rise in his place, and after there has been debate, say, upon an item of£50,000, insist upon£1,000,000 or£2,000,000 sterling being voted without any discussion whatsoever. By the adoption of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea We shall be saved from that danger. I have known a great deal of difficulty in getting Supply;but I never knew the Committee to discuss a Vote item by item. Personally, I am of opinion that we do not pay sufficient attention to the Estimates. Instead of spending too much time in Committee of Supply We do not spend enough time. By the rejection of this Amendment the Government take upon themselves the entire responsibility for the Estimates. The Estimates are never impeached;but the Government are now taking power to shut the mouths of Members, and in doing so it seems to me they are incurring a responsibility which no Ministers have ever ventured to undertake in the previous history of England.
§ MR. DEASY (Mayo, W.)
It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that we really do not know where we are. We have had most conflicting opinions from right hon. Gentlemen opposite regarding this Amendment, and, therefore, it is not unreasonable that we should now ask for some authoritative expression of opinion on behalf of the Government 418 upon this question. Now, it is quite true that, upon occasions, certain contentious Votes have been discussed at some length;but I am not aware of a single instance in which an obstructive Motion has been put down to the Estimates. As a rule, there are not more than three or four, or half-a-dozen, items in an Estimate which are contested, and yet hon. Members tell us that it is because it is quite possible to have 120 or 130, or even 300, obstructive Motions on one Estimate, that this Rule is considered necessary by the Government, in order to enable them to carry on the Business of the country. Now, desirous as hon. Members may have been in past times to retard the progress of Business in this House, I do not know a single instance where Members have put down any large number of Motions against any item in the Estimates with a view to Obstruction. But, after all, if we are not to be permitted to have the privilege we now enjoy, of discussing each item in itself, there is nothing to prevent Ministers moving Votes in a few general phrases. It is a most convenient plan, and it would have the effect of effectually preventing an answer being given by the Treasury Bench to any question to which they are disinclined to give an answer. Now, inasmuch as for the last six years there has been nothing in the shape of Obstruction directed at the Estimates, I fail to see on what ground the Government propose to carry this Rule into operation. This portion of the Rule does not merely provide for the cloture;but it puts an end altogether to the discussion in the House of grievances. It also puts an end to the privileges of private Members, because, judging from the manner in which the Government has been acting of late, it is perfectly evident that private Members will not have an opportunity of moving Motions they have given Notice of for Tuesdays and Fridays, or for Wednesdays. I, as an Irish Member, must protest against this curtailment of the rights and privileges of Members, Had we, the Irish Members, not had an opportunity of exposing many grievances during the last five years, I feel certain that we should not have been able to have brought about so salutary a change in the public opinion of this country in regard to Irish affairs as that which has taken place. 419 Nor would we have been able to induce the Government to make alterations of considerable importance in the administration of justice in Ireland. There are many other questions which we have still to bring forward;but I am afraid this Rule will be put into operation much more frequently against Irish Members than against any other Members of the House. I am afraid the Government will use the powers which Parliament is now about to give them, for the purpose of suppressing the voice of the Irish Representatives, and it is mainly for this reason that I take exception to the Rule and support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn).
§ MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
I cannot congratulate the Government on its obstinacy in declining to accept any Amendment that comes from this side of the House, except it proceeds from the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), who, with perhaps some questionable taste, sits on the Front Bench above the Gangway. I consider that this Rule will have a disastrous effect upon all future legislation;and I cannot but regret the adoption of such a Exile as this, if, as we fear, the effect of it will be that a vote is to be taken after a discussion upon the first item upon the whole Vote. Now, let me give one or two instances of the ill-effect this Rule will have. If this Rule had been in operation last year, one or two very important changes would have been prevented on one Vote. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) brought under the notice of the Committee the state of things that existed in regard to the equipment of the Army in Egypt—a state of things which was a disgrace to the country and dangerous to the men engaged in carrying on the military operations in Egypt. It will be remembered that my hon. Friend brought under the notice of the Committee the fact that the harness and saddlery and other portions of the equipment were absolutely rotten and totally unserviceable. The exposure resulted in an inquiry, and in this terrible and disgraceful state of things being rectified. Now, during the discussion on the question of Army clothing, I brought forward the fact that a certain firm in Ireland did not get its due share of the 420 work that was put out to contract;but I was met with a blank refusal by the Government. I was driven to a Division, and the ugh I was ignominiously defeated, so impressed wore the Government with the statements that were made on behalf of the Limerick Factory that, in the course of a few days or weeks, they entered into negotiations with the managers of that establishment, and a contract was given that was most beneficial to the people of the locality, and certainly most advantageous to the Public Service at large. Now, if this Rule had been in force, it would have been impossible for my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton to have brought these matters before the attention of the Government. What is desired is that we should have, in black and white, what really is the position. We have at present the word of the Government, through the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), that this Rule will not be put in force. I am not inclined to put my trust in any Government. Members on this side of the House have been so often misled, if not deceived, by the Government that I de-cline to place reliance in any Government whatever. It is quite clear that if the Rules of the House provide certain procedure, any assurances of right hon. Gentlemen, in a direction contrary to the spirit of the Rules, is of no value whatever. I hold that, as the Rule stands at present, it is very vague, and that we are entitled to ask that the Rules of this House shall be made as plain as the most ordinary understanding can comprehend. It is at present in the power of the Government and the Speaker to shut off all discussions upon various items that may be put forward in Committee.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order!The hon. Gentleman has not yet spoken at all relevantly to the subject before the House. I must warn him to be more relevant.
MR. J. O'CONNOE
I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker;but I thought I would be in Order in referring to its being made clear to the Committee—
§ MR. J. O'CONNOR
Well, Mr. Speaker, I support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. 421 Dillwyn), because I believe it to be necessary that this House, and the Committee of the Whole House, shall have ample opportunity for the discussion of;every item that comes before them. I have taken some part in the discussion of items in reference to the Army and Navy Estimates, and grievances I have brought forward still remain un-redressed;and it is my intention to bring them forward again when an opportunity presents itself. If this Rule be passed in its present state, I fear greatly that I shall be precluded from the privilege and the right we have hitherto enjoyed of discussing these items and bringing forward grievances. For these reasons, I appeal to the Government to reconsider their determination—their obstinate determination—to reject, not only the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea, but every Amendment that comes from this side of the House.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
This discussion has certainly not tended to encourage the hope that any Amendment, however well grounded, is likely to be received with even reasonable favour by any Gentleman sitting on the other side of the House. Now, if I were a Supporter of the Government, instead of an opponent, I should certainly be disposed strongly to urge upon the Government to reconsider their decision in regard to this particular Amendment. I am afraid many hon. Gentlemen opposite do not realize the practical effect of this Rule, if this Amendment, or something like it, be not accepted. The Rule would not work very much mischief if each particular Vote related exclusively to one subject only;but such is not the case. The majority of the Votes submitted to the House and to Committee of Supply include a great variety of matters under one head. Take, for instance, the Home Office Vote;you will find in that a considerable number of different services, with regard to each one of which a Member of the House might reasonably be expected, when in Committee of Supply, to offer substantial observations likely to prove of use in the administration of the Home Office. The same is the case with the Vote for the Local Government Board and the Board of Trade. Now, if the closure were put in force upon the first item of the Vote, the result would be that all 422 Amendments relating to subsequent items would be summarily excluded. I do not believe that the Government can intend anything of the kind;but I am perfectly certain of this, that when closure is in the air, when hon. Gentlemen who sit below the Gangway opposite, and are not vested with responsibility, become restive, it will be difficult for the Government to resist the clamour for the closure. A few nights ago, when the Supplementary Army Estimates were in Committee, the first item related to the contribution paid on account of Army Services by Egypt, the next item related to the Commissariat Staff, the third item related to the manufacture and custody of Stores, and the last item related to the Special Grant of£110,000 to an inventor on account of the marine torpedo. Each of these particular items was a fair subject for separate discussion in the House;but if this Rule, without such an Amendment as is now moved, had been in force, the result would have been that, after a discussion, more or loss prolonged, upon the question of the contribution of Egypt to the Military Expenditure of this country, your questions relating to the manufacture or custody of stores, to the Commissariat Staff, and to the remuneration of an inventor for a real or a pretended discovery or patent, would have been summarily ruled out. That is a possibility against which this House ought carefully to guard.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
I should like to point out, in the first place, that the House will be acting unwisely and unreasonably if it rejects the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn). The House has already accepted the spirit of this Amendment, so far as the clauses of a Bill are concerned, and there is no conceivable reason why it should not be accepted in the case of Votes in Committee of Supply. The importance of the discussions which take place in Committee of Supply cannot be overestimated. It is within the recollection of every Member of the House that Her Majesty's Government recently suffered a very severe loss, owing to the fact that the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) found it inconsistent with his sense of duty to retain his Office as Chancellor of the Exchequer when extravagant de- 423 mands were being made by the Government for money. In spite of the outcry which has been raised in the country, we know that last night, so far from the Committee being desirous unreasonably to protract debate, it voted£4,500,000 in one half-hour. It has been pointed out, in opposition to the Amendment, that it would be possible to raise a discussion upon every item in the Vote. Now, in the case of one of the Votes passed last night, there were no less than seven pages of items, and, if you divide the Vote into sub-heads, you will Cud that there are, instead of 200 or 250 items, only 25 sub-heads, each of which makes provision, on an average, for£100,000. Now, I intend to propose an Amendment upon the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Dillwyn) which will enable any person to move the closure to each sub-head, and in doing so, I need not point out that the different items of the Army and Navy Votes and other Votes are very clearly set out under separate sub-heads. My proposition will necessitate the application of a separate closure to each sub-head of a Vote, and I hope the Government will see their way to accept it.
Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment,
To leave out from the word "consideration," to the end of the Amendment, in order to add the words "it shall not he competent for a Member to make any Motion to bring to a decision any Question already proposed from the Chair for the granting a whole Vote, in case any Member proposes to move the reduction of the Vote by omitting or reducing a sub-head thereof, the omission or reduction of which has not been previously moved."—(Mr. Chance.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said proposed Amendment."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I do not think there is very much difference between the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Chance). If the Government will consent to one they will consent to the other. The difficulty which really leads to more prolonged discussion than we desire on this side of the House is that the Government never seem to know their minds. They have brought in a Rule, and they do not seem to understand what it means;there is no con- 424 sensus of opinion among them. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) argued that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea was not necessary, because every guarantee contained in it was already contained in the Rule. That view was also taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), and the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes), speaking with the authority of an ex-Chairman of Committees, said that he was going to vote against the Amendment because it introduced something which was not in the Rule. Surely, therefore, before we go much further we ought to have a distinct explanation from the Government as to which of these views is adhered to by the Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews) has just entered the House;surely he will be able to speak with authority for all his Colleagues upon that Bench. I, for my part, think that the Postmaster General was entirely right. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea evidently thinks so, too, because he has moved this Amendment. So far as I can sec, if the Rule passes without this Amendment, the Chairman of Committees will always have it it in his power, if he sees fit, to say there has been sufficient discussion upon the whole Vote under discussion;and, whether there be an Amendment upon items which have not been under discussion or not, he, and the majority of the House, may insist upon a Division upon the whole Estimate It is said that there may be obstructive Amendments. I believe there can be no obstructive Amendment having for its object the reduction of the Estimates;I believe that every proposal to reduce the Estimates is invariably right. I have always voted for reduction. This Government came in with great professions of retrenchment;but, after all, we know that it is a Government of classes, and we know that a Conservative Government only exists by expenditure of money among the classes. Allusion has been made already to-night to what has taken place on the Estimates. I have never obstructed on the Estimates;but I have moved frequent reductions in divers parts of the Estimates. What was the case with the Estimates of last 425 year? They were hurried through the House, and we, on these Benches, were told, even if we devoted five minutes to discussion, that we were obstructing, and that hon. Gentleman wanted to get away to their shooting. The truth is that the Estimates have gone through far too speedily already, and I trust there will not he the same speed with regard to the rest of them. We do not admit that this Amendment is surplusage, as the Government contend, and I shall support, together with my hon. Friend, the Amendment before the House.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
What the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) has said is only a repetition of the argument used in support of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), and which, with painful iteration, has been put forward over and over again during the evening. This, I think, is an instance of the ingenious mode of discussion by which the time of the House is wasted. The object of the Amendment is to provide for the discussion of every item of a Vote. The Government believe that ample protection is provided for every Member who desires to move substantial Amendments to the Vote, and if they are bonâfide, that the wisdom of the Chair will not shut out any substantial Amendment which would remain to be discussed.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
If the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War thinks he has reason to complain that this discussion has been unduly prolonged, I must say that he has taken very good care not to submit personally to the unpleasant task of listening. I have been in the House during the greater part of the evening, and I perfectly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there has been considerable reiteration of argument on this Amendment. But the reason of that has been that on this particular point we have not been able to ascertain what the Government actually mean. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) with the respect due to the Office which he held in a former Parliament, and i think he was entirely wrong in his contention. I listened also to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government 426 Board (Mr. Ritchie), and I admit that he was more nearly right than the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General in the construction which he put upon the clause. The view of the former right hon. Gentleman was that in the Rule there is ample protection for discussion by the Opposition of every item on the Estimates. If I held that view I should be content. But I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider a point which, I believe, has not yet been raised in the discussion. I very much regret, Mr. Speaker, that you are permitted to interfere in this matter at all;but if you are to do so the House has defined exactly when you are to interfere;and although personally I object to what has been laid down in that respect, yet in the interest of the House I am willing to submit to it. But I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider with me what the clause contains. Suppose there is a Vote under discussion;the Vote contains a number of items;upon item number one say there is an obstructive discussion, and at last the Leader of the House interferes and secures the consent of the Chairman to the Motion for the Closure and the discussion is forthwith closed—what follows? According to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board you can proceed to discuss the next item unless the Leader of the House chooses to call for the closure. That, Sir, is going a step further than we have already gone, and I say that in this way all subsequent Amendments can be shut out. I submit that this is going too far. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that, having met the objections taken on this side of the House, to the extent of giving power to the Speaker to put the Amendment to part of a clause to enable the rest to be discussed, the Government should allow similar words to be inserted in the Rule with regard to Committee of Supply—that the Chairman should be permitted to put certain items of the Vote, and that we may be then at liberty to proceed with the discussion of other items without the threat of the closure being held over us. I wish to press it again on the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury that we want to be delivered from the fear that we may nut have the fullest liberty to discuss every item without the leave of the 427 Chair. We do not, as Members of Parliament, wish to have to submit to the Chair;and of course, in saying that, I trust that you, Mr. Speaker, and the House will understand the sense in which I make the remark—we desire to have absolute freedom of discussion. I submit that the effect of the Rule is that because A has obstructed on the first item, I, B, am only to be allowed to discuss a second Amendment if the Chairman and the Government think fit. Sir, I have a higher right than that. I have the right of a Member of Parliament sent here by his constituents to speak on all questions, and it is my intention to do my best to preserve that right, particularly where the money of the taxpayer is concerned. I submit that if the right hon. Gentleman will apply to Votes in Supply the same principle which he has applied to Bills in Committee, he will meet the objections of hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I must, in reply to the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) point out that the provision he suggests appears to me unknown in connection with Committee of Supply, and, as I honestly believe, absolutely unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman has laid great stress on his duty as a Member of the Committee of Supply to discuss any item which he thinks it desirable to discuss. I say, Sir, that it is the right and the duty of hon. Members in Supply to make their voice heard at any time for the protection of the pockets of the taxpayers;but does the hon. Gentleman really believe that that unlimited liberty of speech which he desires to preserve is the best method of discharging the duty of a Member of the Committee of Supply? I do not think it is. The hon. Gentleman admits that there has been considerable obstruction in Committee of Supply;he admits that obstruction is possible, and I say that this Rule is directed against that obstruction, and is so directed in order that the rights of Members in Committee of Supply may be secured. I say again that the hon. Gentleman is hardly doing justice to the majority of this House, and the responsible Member who may move that the Original Question be now put, or to the respon- 428 sibility which rests on the Chairman of Ways and Means, if he supposes that it is possible that a substantive Motion which ought to be discussed in Committee of Supply can be passed over and shut out by the united action of a Minister who may move, a majority who may support, and a Chairman who may permit, an improper closure of debate. I repeat that I regret beyond anything I can express the necessity of limiting discussion even upon trivial Amendments with the view of protecting discussion on Amendments of importance. I know of no method by which we can secure that proper discussion so completely as to make it the duty and responsibility of the Chair to see that there is no abuse of the Rules of the House, and that no right of the minority is left unregarded. For that reason I am unable to accept the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman, and I believe that in resisting it we shall be securing to this House the just and proper control in Committee of Supply which, without some such regulation as we propose, would be found to be impossible.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
My advocacy of this Amendment is grounded upon the rights of the taxpayers of the country, and not on the rights of hon. Members of this House. We claim that the finances of this country are subjected to the control of the House of Commons, and that this House shall be allowed to exercise that control. That is our proposition. The right hon. Gentleman is always speaking about the rights of Members of Parliament in this matter;but it is the rights of the taxpayers that we are contending for. I wish to put a Question to the Government in reference to the Estimates. You set forth in them the salary of the lowest official in the country and the salary of the First Lord of the Treasury, the Lord Chancellor, Secretaries of State, and the porter who carries the messages of the charwoman who lights the fires in the morning;and that is quite right, because it is a Constitutional Rule that not one penny shall be spent without it is open to the criticism of Members of Parliament. But the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has set forth a new Rule, that the money of the country shall be spent without that criticism if the majority in a discussion declare that it shall not 429 take place. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General quoted a saying of Lord Beaconsfield, that two determined men could overturn the Constitution of the country if they had Supply in their hands;hut we have here the proposal that a Minister shall take from the House of Commons the ancient right of criticizing Votes in Supply. I say that that is the fundamental right of the House of Commons;and to say that it shall be dependent on the caprice of any Minister, or any Member of a Section of the House, is a most revolutionary proposition. I maintain, Sir, that under this Rule the Chairman of Committees is the creature of the majority of this House, and that nothing which you can do by means of a Rule like this will make him anything but a creature of the majority of the House. Suppose that Vote 24 for Diplomatic Buildings is the subject of discussion in Committee of Supply. I find there are 21 sub-heads, and that these relate to buildings in various parts of the world. Under the Rule as it stands, if a Member wants to make a long speech on one of the items—relating, say, to a building in Africa—he would have it in his power to shut out discussion on all the other buildings. The right hon. Gentleman says we must have some power to curtail obstructive discussion. I say you have better means in your power than what we find here. I maintain that you have full power to put down obstructive discussion in Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman probably forgets that, even if the Amendment of my hon. Friend were passed, the power of the closure would still exist. My hon. Friend does not want to prevent you from stopping obstructive discussion on Subhead A;he wants to prevent you from stopping discussion on all the rest of the sub-heads in the Vote. That is his contention, and I hope my hon. Friend will go to a Division, in which case I shall certainly follow him into the Lobby.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
I wish to point out that we are endeavouring to induce the Government to introduce into the first part of the second clause of the first Rule the words which the House has already accepted at the suggestion of the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess 430 Hartington). I think the Government would do well by accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) to introduce into the Rule, with reference to Supply, that very important principle which the noble Marquess put forward with, regard to Bills in Committee. I wish to put it to hon. Members whether they really understand on what question they went into the Lobby on the occasion referred to, and to suggest that they will be stultifying themselves in the vote they are about to give if they do not support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea. I do think that the right hon. Gentleman the First. Lord of the Treasury, in replying to the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey), ought to have said that he had accepted the Amendment of the noble Marquess, and that he would carry the principle out logically to the end. If it were important to apply that principle in the case of the clauses of a Bill, it is more important to apply it in the cases of Votes in Committee of Supply. But the Government have refused to do so, and the result is that there will be no Proviso or means, in the second part of the first Rule, by which you can save yourselves from rushing through an entire Vote, even if the Committee wish to discuss the subsequent items. I ask the House to be consistent, and accept the principle of the Amendment of my hon. Friend.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the words 'Provided always, That, in Committee of Supply, when a Vote is under consideration, and to the particular items of which more than one Notice of Amendment has been given, if, after discussion on one of such items, the Rule for closing that discussion is put in force, the fact of its adoption shall not be held to apply to Amendments to the other sub-items of that Vote,' be there inserted.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 130;Noes 216: Majority 86.—(Div. List, No. 63.)
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
The Amendment I have given Notice of is a simple one. Although hon. Members hero are some of them extremely well acquainted with the Rules, I have always found that there are many Members who, notwithstanding that they can make able speeches, cannot tell the difference between Monday and Tuesday and Thursday and Friday. It takes six or seven 431 years before a Member can tell the day of the week—I mean before he knows the difference between the class of Business taken on different days of the week. Of course, Mondays and Thursdays belong absolutely to the Government. I do not wish to deal with the se days. Friday is a kind of half-and-half day. It belongs nominally to the Government;but the practice has been for private Members to take possession of it, to a certain extent, by putting down Motions on going into Committee of Supply. I do not wish to touch Fridays, but I limit my Amendment to Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Wednesdays private Members bring in their Bills, and I think we ought to be very jealous of our privilege. I should like to point out to the House how totally unnecessary it is to have the clôture on Wednesdays, because we already have it by the fact of the clock arriving at 6.4.5 p.m. The clôture proposed might be used injuriously by the majority against the minority, as it would enable them to clôture Bills before they had been adequately discussed, in order to enable them to proceed with other measures in which they were interested, but for which they had failed to get priority on the Paper. I think such a course would be an unjust interference with the rights of private Members, and I hold that the first Bill should continue to have the priority which it has always been understood to possess. I should not object to the adoption of some now system by which a selection of Bills might be made for Wednesdays, but I think it unfair that the power of selection should be given to the majority by this Clôture Resolution. With regard to Tuesdays, our procedure differs on that day from our procedure on Wednesdays. Tuesday is the only day private Members can get for the moving of substantive Resolutions. On Friday only one substantive Motion can be moved;but on Tuesdays several Members may put down Motions, and may take Divisions on them. Many important measures have been brought forward in this way on Tuesdays by private Members, and long debates have ensued, which have served to enlighten the country, and prepare it for the ultimate adoption of the proposed reforms. Now, if the clôture is carried as at present proposed, the objection which I pointed out with regard to the course 432 of Business on Wednesdays will apply, because the Government will select, by the process of clôture, that subject which they wish to have debated. They will be able to cloôure Resolutions number 1 and 2, in order to bring on number 3, which may be of very little public importance. I think that the Government, by proposing to deprive private Members of the control of one day in the week, are not only doing something very unnecessary, but something very dangerous, because they are depriving the majority of their rights—because they themselves are really the Representatives of a minority. Owing to the present fortuitous state of Parties in the House on every subject except that of Ireland, they will be silencing the majority. By this Rule, the Government will have an easy method of getting rid of an awkward Resolution. No doubt, the Leader of an Opposition will always be able to get a day from the Government for a discussion;but there are always a great many questions cropping up with regard to which the Leader of the Opposition does not care to ask for a day, and which private Members should be allowed the opportunity of discussing.
At the end of line 12, to insert the words, "Provided, That no Motion for a Closure of the Debate may be made on a Tuesday or a Wednesday."—(Colonel Nolan.)
§ Question proposed, "That the se words be there inserted."
§ THE FIRST LORD or THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
It frequently happens that really interesting questions, which the House is anxious to discuss, cannot be reached by reason of the undue protraction of the discussion on some subject of small interest which precedes them. I think that if the House is of opinion that the debate should be closed on any question under discussion, it should be at liberty to close it. Moreover, of late years Governments have been obliged to ask for Tuesdays, and the effect of the Amendment will be to exempt the se evenings from the closure when Government Business is under consideration. I do not think that the closure should be denied to private Members who have Motions and Bills before the House, and who may wish a 433 decision to be come to with regard to them. It seems to me that it would be fair and reasonable, and more for the proper conduct of Business, that the Closure Rule should be applied universally.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
So far as I am concerned, if the clôture is good for the Government, it is also good for private Members. The proposal of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan) is to exclude Tuesdays and Wednesdays from the operation of the clôture. He started his speech by saying that Members did not get into proper count of the days in the week until they had been six or seven years in Parliament. Well, he himself seems to have lost count, because he appears to have lost sight of the fact that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the days on which, it would be very advantageous to private Members to have a guarantee that their Motions will not be closed by lapse of time. I have known cases in which hon. Members have spoken for a very long time on Wednesdays for the purpose of defeating a Bill. I remember Dr. Lyons speaking for an hour and a-half in order to talk out the Irish Sunday Closing Bills. I cheered him ironically, and I recollect his coining across to me afterwards and thanking me very earnestly for the encouragement I had given him. If the Government would exclude the operation of the clôture on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, whenever Government Business is set down for the se days, I should have no objection;but if it is proposed to exclude the operation of the clôture on Tuesdays and Wednesdays merely, when private Members' Business is before the House, I should say that we ought to decline to accept the proposal. I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend intends to force his Amendment to a Division. I cannot think the alteration he proposes would be a good thing to private Members. I think, on the contrary, it would be a disadvantage to them. It is said that hon. Members in connection with Bills that are discussed on Wednesdays very frequently deliver long and carefully-prepared speeches. I do not think he can refer to the Irish Members, because it seems to me that we are able to pursue a debate at any time without very long notice. I do not see any way 434 to support the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend, believing that it would cut against private Members rather than in favour of them.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The next Amendment in Order is that of the hon. Member for South Kilkenny (Mr. Chance), in line 13.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I have the following Amendment on the Paper:—In Rule 1, line 12, after "Do-bate," insert—Provided that no Motion that the Clause or any portion thereof stand part of, or be added to, the Hill shall be made until all the Amendments of which Notice have been given have been disposed of.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have ruled that Amendment out of Order, because I consider the principle was contained in the Amendment of the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington).
§ MR.PARNELL (Cork)
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for South Kilkenny, I beg to move for him the following Amondment:—In line 13, after the word "that," to insert the words—Questions that the Question that certain words of any Clause defined in the Motion stand part of the Clause, or that any Clause stand part of or be added to the Bill be now put, shall not be decided in the affirmative if a Division be taken, unless it shall appear by the numbers declared from the Chair that such Question has been supported by a number of Members at least twice the number of the Members voting against it, and that other.The object of this Amendment is to provide an additional safeguard in the shape of a proportionate majority in the case of a decision come to, to apply the clôture to questions with reference to the putting of a clause, or in the case of an Amendment which may be moved to that clause. I think this is an Amendment which will commend itself to the sense of the House, because the whole tone of the discussion which has taken place on the question of the safeguards to be adopted for a close have shown the necessity for the adoption of some other and better safeguard than that which is provided in the Rule of the Government as it now stands. It will be in the recollection of the House that this question of the proportionate majority was debated in the last Parliament 435 on the first Clôture Rule introduced by the Liberal Government. The Conservative Party, as a body, then took a very strong and decided stand upon that, occupying many nights with the discussion of the question as to whether a bare majority or a proportionate majority should decide the question involved in the clôture. That question was decided adversely to the views of the then Conservative Party by a majority of 44;but it excited very considerable interest at the time, and it is possible that when the time comes for discussing the question as to whether a bare majority shall be maintained in reference to the whole operation of this Rule, or whether there shall be some proportionate majority, the Conservative Party will be again beaten. The question involved is one of a minor character, referring only to the application of the clôture to a clause. When the majority takes the very unusual course of stopping discussion on a clause, and cutting out a number of Amendments, there should be a decisive consensus of opinion in favour of that step against the minority;in other words, that it should not be in the power of 200 Members, or considerably less than one-third of the Whole House, to apply the clôture to the clauses of a Bill. I think that this is a case on which the Tory Party should return to their old policy of insistence on the virtue of a proportionate majority, and that the Liberal Party should divert from the path which, they originally marked out. I am reminded that in 1882 we voted against proportionate majority and in favour of clôture by a bare majority. We had then in view a clôture applicable to important Divisions like the se in second readings and important Resolutions;we did not think it was a weapon which could be conveniently used in Committee. Besides, the old Clôture Rule was brought in by the then Government as a weapon which would be very rarely used;but there can be no doubt that this Clôture Rule will be frequently and indiscriminately used. We are therefore entitled to press very strongly upon the Government the necessity of giving the safeguard which my hon. Friend the Member for South Kilkenny (Mr. Chance) suggests. The adoption of this Amendment will not at all prejudge the question of proportionate majority later on. Now Sir, if you 436 call to mind the many reforms which have been carried of late years, you will remember that they have not been adopted without considerable insistence in Committee. Take, for instance, the case of the Army Discipline Bill, or, as it was called, the Mutiny Bill. If the Government had been allowed to clôture the Amendments proposed in Committee to that Bill, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that the Amendments which were entirely instrumental in obtaining the reform of the law comprised in the abolition of flogging in the Army and Navy would never have been carried. Our Amendments in the se days were looked upon with great repugnance and impatience by the whole body of the Government Party. We could scarcely obtain leave to make ourselves understood by the House at large, so great was the impatience which was exhibited. Now, similar impatience and a similar situation will undoubtedly arise in future, if you leave it in the power of a bare and simple majority to rush headlong and not only stop discussion, but prevent discussion. There can be no hardship whatever in insisting upon proportionate majority, such as my Amendment requires, and I shall be very curious to see what the Conservative Party, which, in 1882, supported so stoutly a proposition for a proportionate majority in reference to the application of the clôture, have to say now, in 1887, in opposition to an Amendment which only provides that there shall be a proportionate majority in the se cases whore there is the greatest risk;nay more, almost absolute certainty of an abuse of this Rule by a strong and excited majority. I bog to propose the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for South Kilkenny (Mr. Chance).
In line 13, after the word "that," to insert the words "Questions that the Question that certain words of any Clause defined in the Motion stand part of the Clause, or that any Clause stand part of or he added to the Bill be now put, shall not he decided in the affirmative if a Division he taken, unless it shall appear by the numbers declared from the Chair that such Question has been supported by a number of Members at least twice the number of the Members voting against it, and that other."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the se words be there inserted."437
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I understand the argument of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Parnell) to be that the proceedings in Committee require a different treatment, as regards closure, than the proceedings in the House. I am unable to accept the proposition of the hon. Member. I do not think there is anything in Committee on a Bill, or a Committee of Supply, which should induce the House to make a distinction as to the conditions under which the closure should be applied to debate in Committee, than to debate upon a second reading or Motion. I cannot help thinking the safeguards introduced in this Rule are sufficient. I believe also that the Rule itself is necessary to enable the House to conduct its Business, and therefore I cannot consent to hamper its operation by putting into the hands of the minority power to prevent the House discharging its duties.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
I regret I was not in my place to move this Amendment, of which I had given Notice;and I have to thank my hon. Friend and Leader (Mr. Parnell) for proposing it. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) has overlooked a very strong argument in favour of introducing a different Rule as to the necessary majority in this case than in other cases. When you have a simple question of closure on one single point, I am entitled to assume the House will be divided into two distinct Parties. One Party will be composed of such Members as do not desire further discussion, having made up their minds upon the subject at issue;but when you come to the case of a closure, by which you will suppress a number of different Amendments, the House will assuredly be split up into many Parties. One Party will desire to get rid of one question, another Party will desire to shelve a second question, another Party will desire to prevent discussion upon the third question, and so on, in accordance with the number of Amendments which ore to be summarily suppressed by one Motion. On the other hand, you will find a small number of Gentlemen who consider there is something in every one of the Amendments, and who will be unwilling to consent to any one of them being suppressed. This is an argument which cannot apply to other 438 instances of the application of the closure;and, therefore, there is a very distinct case made out for this proposition—a case which the right hon. Gentleman has not answered at all. It is intended that 40 Members will be able to get rid of the opposition of 39 Members;but that if one Member be added to the 39, it will be necessary that 1G1 Members be added to the 40, before the clôture can be adopted. At the same time, 201 Members will be able to carry the clôture against 200. That seems to be a most extraordinary and illogical proposition. Now, my Amendment would get rid of this absurdity. This Amendment will also be more efficacious than the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, especially in the ease of small Divisions. For instance, 81 Members will be able to carry the clôture against 10;while, under the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, 201 Members would be required to vote in the majority. I trust the First Lord of the Treasury will reconsider the position he has taken up in regard to this Amendment.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
The question of the majority, by which the clôture is to be put in force, is one of great difficulty. It was discussed at great length five years ago, and I am not at all sure that the conclusion then arrived at was regarded as satisfactory. Such as it was, it is embodied more or less in the Rule submitted by the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith);but a mere glance at the Paper containing the Amendments will show that very conflicting views are entertained upon the point, not only by Members upon the Opposition Benches, but also by Members who rank as Supporters of Her Majesty's Government;a variety of propositions have been proposed, of 2 to 3, 1 to 2, 1 to 3, and so on. Now, it is impossible, in considering the question, to lose sight of the position the Speaker occupies in this matter. The old Constitutional Rule of this House is, that every question should be decided by the majority;and with regard to all ordinary Business, it is right and reasonable that the opinion of the majority should prevail. But the imposition of the closure is not an ordinary proceeding. The Government will probably admit that the imposition of the closure is an exceedingly strong measure, and should never be resorted 439 to unless the evident sense of the House in support of the proceeding is clearly manifest. Under these circumstances, it appears to me that any mere proportionate majority, where the majority is a small one, must be unsatisfactory;because the majority may be a chance majority, and the Speaker, recognizing the majority which happens for the moment to be before him, will give his consent—or rather will not withhold his assent—to the proposal that the closure should be inflicted. It may well be that, on many occasions, closure will be put-in force under circumstances in which only a small portion of the House is really present. I have considered this question of majority from all points of view in which I could regard it, and I am satisfied that there is no satisfactory solution of the difficulty, except one, and that is the one which is akin to the traditions of the House—namely, an absolute majority. I do not mean an absolute majority for the time being. Closure is an exceptional measure, and should be enforced by an exceptional majority;and a proper and Constitutional majority is a majority of the House as a whole. An absolute majority of the House is, of course, 336 Members;and, if we resolve upon such a majority, we shall relieve the Chair at once of all the invidious responsibility which is now cast upon it. You will free the hands of the Chair;because, in submitting the Question to the House, the Chair will know perfectly well that if the closure is imposed it will be imposed by a majority of the entire House. Having regard to these considerations, I do not look with very great favour upon the precise wording of this Amendment;but, at the same time, if the larger proposal—and what I regard as the sounder and more Constitutional proposal—is rejected, I shall be obliged to go into the Lobby in support of this and other similar Amendments.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
The least we ought to expect is that when the clôture is imposed it should be imposed by a majority of the House as a whole, otherwise we have no guarantee that the House is not opposed to the closure. While I consider the adoption of the suggestion of my hon. Friend (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) would be the best solution of the question, I think the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman 440 the Member for South Kilkenny (Mr. Chance) is extremely reasonable. Of course, we have ceased to hope that the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) will accept an Amendment proposed on this side of the House;he has steadfastly refused to do anything of the kind;and we continue to move Amendments, in the hope that sooner or later the House will be struck by the reasonableness of our demands, and accept our Amendments in spite of the opposition of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
I must confess I am not in favour of this Amendment. It is proposed that when the clôture is applied to a clause of a Bill there shall be a two-to-one majority. The clôture upon a Vote in Supply is, according to our own argument, much more important than the clôture upon a clause. I submit that as the House has let so much go by default, they should let the whole go by default, and let the Government have its way. The hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) has suggested that the clôture should only be applied when an absolute majority of the whole House votes in favour of it. I have not had very much experience in this House;but I have had a good deal of experience of public bodies in the North of England, and I never understood a majority to be anything but a majority of the se who at the time being are attending to their business. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who has a very logical mind, does not see that his proposal would be impracticable and un-English, if it be not uu-Irish. Sir, I the roughly deplore the necessity there is fur the House to take the se proceedings at all. [Ministerial cheers.] I think that if the hon. Gentlemen who cheer that sentiment had been a little wiser, if they had brought certain constituencies in this country, and certain Members, into harmony in this House, there would have been no necessity at all to propose these un-English Rules. However, they have adopted their own course. They, who opposed the clôture by a bare majority in 1882, tell us they have now grown wiser. I am one of the minority who resisted the clôture then, and who resist it now, and I am only sorry we have not now the support of the Conservatives in preventing this Rule being adopted. But I maintain that if we are to have 441 the clôture, let us have the clôture. The House has adopted the principle of a simple majority in the matter of second and third readings and in Supply, and I do not see how we can make an exception in this particular case. Therefore, if there be a Division, I shall feel it my duty to vote, for once, with the Government.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
As one of a body of Members who are likely to most frequently be in a minority, I desire to give my warmest support to this Amendment. It is quite possible that if on the clauses of a Bill there were but two Parties in the House, it would be undesirable to ask that there should be a majority of two to one;but when there is a third Party in the House that Party has a right to see that it receives that protection which the much larger minority receives. The regular Opposition requires no protection, as far as I can understand;but the Irish minority is the one which we seek to defend by this fair and reasonable Amendment.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
The House must clearly understand that this Amendment does not extend to the closure discussed in the first part of the Rule. My hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell) simply asks that when the closure is adopted in regard to the clause of a Bill, there shall be two to one in favour of its application. The state of things under the Rule as it now stands reminds me of the new machine gun. More care is required in using the machine gun than in firing the ordinary rifle, and the man in charge of the machine gun ha3 to take all due precautions to avoid danger to his own friends. What my hon. Friend who has moved this Amendment says is, that when the House is in Committee on a Bill, when, as it were, the irregulars are in the field, to apply the machine gun suddenly and without proper precautions, might be dangerous to one's friends, whatever might be the effect with regard to the enemy. I think my hon. Friend has very fairly put the question to the House, and that he has shown that when the House is discussing Amendments to a Bill in Committee, when hon. Members are able to speak two or three times on the same question, when some hon. Gentlemen are not so much interested in the matter immediately before them as in the safety of the 442 measure to which it relates, there will probably be a tendency, unless some such safeguard as that which is now proposed be carried, to resort to the application of the clôture. My hon. Friend has, therefore, provided for such a contingency. My observations have merely been intended to convey to the House what it is that my hon. Friend proposes;and I think that having shown what is his intention, and how much he narrows down the question, I have said sufficient to recommend his Amendment to the House.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
What I should like to see is, that the House should be brought into such a state of harmony of mind that there should be no necessity for us to divide on this question at all;but that, I fear, is too much to expect. I may say, however, that although there have been a good many acceptable arguments in favour of the proposal we are discussing, there have been very nearly as many against it;but I do not moan to say that I have risen for the purpose of opposing it. What I say is, that proposals like this do not exactly express the ideas we desire to embody. They are the consequential and necessary subsidiary parts of what is being forced upon us by the action of Her Majesty's Government. If I were asked my view of the proposal submitted by my hon. Friend, I should say I do not agree with it altogether;but looking at it as bearing on what the Government have already done, and is likely to do, I should say that, as one of a possible number of evils, we had hotter accept it. Now, what is the Amendment of my hon. Friend? He proposes, in Rule 1, line 13, after the word "that," to insert the following words:—Questions that the Question that certain words of any Clause defined in the Motion stand part of the Clause, or that any Clause stand part of or be added to the Bill be now put, shall not be decided in the affirmative if a Division be taken, unless it shall appear by the numbers declared from the Chair that such Question has been supported by a number of Members at least twice the number of the Members voting against it.What I desire to say is this—I do believe it to be necessary that the House of Commons should have the same privilege and power as any other body of Gentlemen in any other As- 443 sembly in the world possesses by inherent right—the power and privilege of closing its own discussions when the majority so wish: although I do not know that the proposition thus put is very acceptable to hon. Gentlemen opposite. Whenever the majority of this House desires, and there and then declares it to be desirable either for the public convenience, or, to put it at its lowest phase, even for the convenience of its own Members, that a discussion should cease, I hold that it ought to be in its power to make and act on such declaration. But it is a far different thing to say, as this Amendment proposes, that when, what I may for the moment be allowed to describe as a mechanical majority of two to one shall declare that a discussion shall be at an end, the discussion shall therefore terminate. And here I want the House to understand what is meant by a majority of two to one. In order to understand this, let me ask how do we stand tonight, or on any other occasion when the Government is supported by a strong majority for the purpose of carrying, not only these Rules, but anything they like in the shape of Procedure? They may, by means of a four or five-line Whip, or even of a twelve-line Whip, have prepared a majority of two to one, or even of three to one. Although I support the Amendment of my hon. Friend, I think it does not go far enough. It stops short of what I want to see in regard to the division of the House on the closure question. What I wish to put before the House is this—that although, at the present moment, a majority of two to one might be got to vote against me, it is at the same time quite possible that a majority of the whole House could not be got to vote against my hon. Friend's Amendment. What we want, although the words of the Amendment of my hon. Friend do not suggest it, is, that in order to enable the closure to be put on any Vote in Committee of Supply or otherwise, there should be a majority of the Whole House in favour of the closure;and, if the House should so decide, then I say that no hon. Member occupying a place in this House could, for one moment, pretend to represent the democratic views of any constituency in the Kingdom, if he maintained that he could stand 444 against that decision. The position of any hon. Member taking such a course would, I venture to say, be a very dangerous one.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 49;Noes 191: Majority 142.—(Div. List, No. 64.)
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Gedge.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH)
In assenting to the Motion for the adjournment of the debate, I hope the House will bear in mind the necessity for making progress with these Rules, and that we may be enabled to decide the question of the number requisite to apply the closure to-morrow.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.