Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business may be entered upon at any hour, though opposed, and shall not he interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House. —(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ (4.38.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I am not surprised at this Motion being made on the part of the First Lord of the Treasury, for after the attacks the right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly made on the Rules of the House, nothing that he can do in this direction forms, in my mind, subject for surprise. Of late, the First Lord of the Treasury and many of his Colleagues have been girding at us as though we were responsible for the terrible state into which public business had fallen. [Ministerial Cheers.] I thought that would elicit the usual cheer from hon. Members opposite, and as hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to endorse that view, it will be necessary to throw a little daylight on the question who is really responsible. I suppose that even hon. Gentlemen opposite will admit that this Session has been wasted. ["No, no!"] Well, I was curious to know that, because I follow with great interest the speeches hon. Gentlemen deliver up and down the country. One day I read in their speeches that owing to us on this side of the House the Session has been entirely wasted, and then, next day, I read a speech from another hon. Gentleman on the opposite side, to the effect that there never has been such a wonderful Session, and that the Ministry has covered itself with honour. ["Name!"] Who says this? Why, all of you. [Cries of "Divide!"] If hon. Gentlemen are anxious that the Session should end at a reasonable time, they will do well not to cry out "Divide!" and so try to prevent hon. Gentlemen on the Radical side from speaking, for we intend to do our duty, and, for my part, when hon. Gentlemen opposite cry" Divide!" it only leads me to believe that I am doing my duty, and makes me feel that I ought to do my duty still more fully. Unquestionably the Session has been wasted. Not even the ordinary business has been 1930 taken in reasonable time, and the question is, whose fault is it? I should say that it is the fault of Her Majesty's Ministers. They have frequently been accused of it, even by their own followers and their own organs in the Press, which charge them with having muddled the business of the House. What have they done? They have announced certain Bills in the Queen's Speech, they have brought them in, and there seems to have been a sort of rivalry amongst them, each Member of the Government wishing to bring forward his own measure before that of his Colleague. The Chancellor of the Exchequer entered the lists, and suddenly came forward with the Compensation Bill, but everything failed to pass. There was a considerable amount of discussion on all the Government Bills on both sides of the House, and after wasting a great number of days on them Ministers withdrew them. There is only one advantage to the country that has been gained by the present Session. At the commencement of the Session Ministers were going about the country and really persuading some people that although their politics were not sound they were good men of business. I think the bottom has been entirely knocked out of that illusion. I do not think that even their own supporters regard them as good men of business at this moment. We are told that we are responsible for what has happened, and that the failure of the business of the Session is due to our obstruction. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham the other day said that Ministers had done a great deal of good, but had been prevented from passing many of their excellent Bills owing to inveterate, professed, and avowed obstruction. I am perfectly ready to admit that when Bills are brought into this House which, practically, are raids on the public Treasury, it is the duty of Members on this side of the House to offer them a most strenuous opposition. It is their duty, when the forms of the House are used again and again to crush out discussion on this side, that we should use on our own part all the forms of the House in order to have discussion. But, Sir, as a matter of fact, there has been no obstruction this Session, for the simple reason that there has been no need of obstruction. All that is needed is to leave right 1931 hon. Gentlemen alone. Ministers have obstructed each other, and they are themselves responsible for the failure of legislation. We have at present one Bill before us—the Police Bill—and the First Lord of the Treasury complains that there has been obstruction in regard to that, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby pointed out in the early days of the Bill that if it were referred to a Standing Committee it would have to be fully discussed on Report when it came down to the House. They have put the Bill off to the last days of the Session, and now they complain of that which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, with great prescience and knowledge of the House, foretold would take place. We may put aside the Police Bill, which will pass to-day or tomorrow, and there will then be no measure of a controversial character before us. But what is more important is that only one-half of the Estimates have been carried, although that is the primary business of the House. In order to be fairly discussed they ought to be brought in at a fair and reasonable time. Last year the Government put off the Estimates to the end of the Session, and when complaint was made of this the right hon. Gentleman pledged himself that this Session the Estimates should be brought forward at an early period, and that certain Votes which are usually put down at the fag-end of the Estimates should be taken first. Has that pledge been kept? Most unquestionably it has not been kept. We have reached, now the last dying days of the Session, and we are still left with one-half of the Estimates undisposed of, and the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, not satisfied with having placed them in the position of being scamped, now insists on their being taken at a late hour of night when the Debates cannot be reported, and when hon. Members who wish to express their views will be met with cries of "Divide, divide!" That is adding insult to injury. On what ground does the right hon. Gentleman ask for this? On the ground that hon. Members are fatigued; and he asks us to adjourn shortly, because we are going to meet again in November. Well, we never asked the right hon. Gentleman to call a meeting of the House in November, and the proposal was not received with 1932 rapture even by hon. Members opposite-Why is it proposed to meet in November? In order that we may adjourn next year somewhere about the beginning of July. We are asked, in fact, to sit up all night now in order that we may adjourn early in July, 1891, instead of in August. I trust the government of the country will be in other hands in July next, and it will not be for the present Ministry to decide how long we are to sit. No Ministry has ever fallen so low as this one. They have done absolutely nothing. They are condemned by their own organs, and there is almost a mutiny amongst their own followers. Really, when I see them sitting there struggling against their followers and opposed by everybody, I do feel a sort of pity for them. Obstruction has not been necessary, but, for the sake of argument, I will assume that there has been obstruction, and that they have been prevented by it from carrying out their plans. Then, I say, I am rejoiced to think that it has been so useful. When I think of the Irish Land Purchase Bill, the Tithes Bill, and the Compensation Bill, I am thankful that hon. Gentlemen opposite have so good an opinion of us as to imagine it is owing to our action that such excellent results have been obtained. If you say the Session has been a failure owing to us, it appears that our tactics have been successful. The country is utterly sick of the present Parliament, and regards it as thoroughly played out. The Liberal portion of the constituencies look to us on these Benches to prevent as much mischief as we possibly can, but what they aspire to is a General Election. Surely the Government are not going to—I may say—throw pearls before swine—to throw legislation before those who will not pass it. I have been asked when there will be a General Election, and I have said not while the present Government can prevent it. They "lag superfluous" on that Bench, and they will continue to lag there superfluous. I say that Estimates ought not to be relegated to the end of the Session, and then discussed after midnight. I shall divide against the Motion, as a protest against the mode in which Ministers conduct business, and against the way in which they put off the Estimates till the last days of the Session, and then try and 1933 force them through in a more rapid way than is absolutely necessary.
§ (4.54.) MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
Whatever be the intention of this Motion its effect will be to punish the Scotch Members. I suppose the discussion on the English Police Bill will finish at 12 o'clock to-night, and then the Government propose to start the Scotch Police Bill.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
The difficulty in which the House is placed in regard to these two Bills is owing entirely, in my judgment, to the rejection last Saturday of the Motion made to send the two Bills to the same Committee, so that they might be considered side by side, the measures being to a large extent identical. If this course had been accepted, probably by this time we should have been two-thirds through both of them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) said on Saturday he had made inquiry among the Scotch Members and found that four out of five of them desired the immediate passing of the Scotch Police Bill. I have made inquiries, and I find that the statement made by the Scotch Members was not that they desired the Bill to pass this Session, but that if it came on at all it should be immediately after the English Bill. That was not the statement made on Saturday.
§ * MR. CHILDERS
I stated three times that we were asked to ascertain whether it was the wish of the Scotch Members that the Scotch Bill should follow the English Bill or whether Scotch Supply should come first. The answer from the great majority of Scotch Members sitting on this side was that the Scotch Police Bill should come first. I doubt whether at the outside eight Members were of a different opinion.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
I am glad of the explanation. I did not gather that from what was said on Saturday. I hope that the appeal made on Saturday may be renewed now with more success than it met with then. The Amendment of 1934 my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen will give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of stating his views on the subject. I do trust, having regard to the entire absence of consideration of this Bill by the Scotch people, that the First Lord of the Treasury, in order to facilitate the progress of business in this House, will provide for the suspension of this Bill. The First Lord has conferred many favours on Scotch Members, and I hope he will add another to the favours he has bestowed upon them.
§ *(5.2.) MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK (Whitehaven)
I do not rise to answer the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton, and I think he can have little confidence in what he himself said, seeing that he has left the House; but I have been in the House for a good many years, and have never known a Session when it has not been said by 'somebody that it had been wasted through the fault of the Government. I entirely approve the proposal to suspend the Standing Order for the rest of the Session, and I wish I could induce my right hon. Friend to carry his Motion still further, so as to get rid of the Standing Order altogether, because I am satisfied that such hard and fast rules do not conduce to the efficient transaction of business. As to the Scotch Members they have taken up a great deal of time, far more than their fair share I remember Lord Sherbrooke, then Mr. Lowe, saying "Confound these Scotch Members. I really think there ought to be one Scotch Member with 60 votes." If an arrangement of that kind could be made, there is no doubt that business would be got through with much greater despatch. I urge upon the First Lord of the Treasury that he should consider seriously whether next Session he could not do something to amend the blunder that had been perpetrated in establishing this hard and fast 12 o'clock rule. It might, for example, be made for a later hour than 12, or, at all events, not allowing it to stand exactly as it is at present.
§ (5.10.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I do not know that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has thrown much light on the subject, or done anything to conciliate Members sitting on this side of the House. I will say a word or two on 1935 this proposal, which I look upon as one for the convenience of the House. But, first, with regard to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Dundee. The opinion of a great number of the Scotch Members was this: that if the Government intended to proceed with the Scotch Police Bill, it would be convenient that it should be proceeded with immediately after the English Bill. That opinion was expressed to the First Lord of the Treasury, who received and acted upon it in perfect good faith and courtesy. Now, I will say a word or two on the question whether the present proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is justified or not. There is a very dangerous tendency on the part of leading men of the Party opposite to lay the blame for the disasters of the Session on this side of the House. Against that I must emphatically protest. I hold that the Government when they bring forward an important Bill are bound to pass that Bill or to go out. A very great number of days, I think 25, have been spent over the financial proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and what has been most disputed in those proposals has been dropped in consequence of the opposition from this side of the House. No Government that I can remember has ever dropped the principal, the only great Bill of a Session, without going out or dissolving. ["What about the Compensation for Disturbance Bill?"] That was the House of Lords. I do not see why we should be alarmed at the proposal of the leader of the House, for no Bill to which hon. Gentle men are strongly and keenly opposed will be more likely to pass in consequence of the adoption of the Motion. If the Government have, mismanaged business, why should the House of Commons be punished, and it will be punishing the House of Commons not to permit this latitude in respect of the transaction of business, for if it is not allowed the Session must be prolonged. But I think that the Government ought to give a pledge that the power which they obtain will be used reasonably. The House, it should be remembered, meets now at 3 o'clock in the day, and it is a serious matter to sit very far into the night. Very important business, like the Scotch Police Bill, ought not to be taken at such a time as will necessitate 1936 any large part of the discussion being continued after 12 o'clock. If there is that honourable understanding, though I can understand hon. Members voting against the proposal for various reasons, I trust on this occasion they will vote in favour of that which is for the convenience of the House.
§ *(5.14.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster
I think it will be convenient to hon. Members that this question should be decided without much further debate. The right hon. Gentleman opposite asks me to give an undertaking that we shall use this power reasonably. I may at once say that the Government have no intention of using the power unreasonably. It must be obvious to the House that considerations of convenience demand that during these remaining days, or weeks, or perhaps months, of the Session we should at least have power to proceed after 12 o'clock with reasonable Bills to which no section of the House objects, but to which individual Members may object on the ground that to consider them would be to make progress with public business. It is most undesirable that at this period of the Session it should be in the power of hon. Members to terminate a discussion at 12 o'clock without finishing the business the House had entered upon. The House is very well aware that on many occasions questions have been fully discussed and were really ripe for decision by the House when that hour arrived, and so fresh debates arose when the House met the next day. I trust, therefore, that the House, taking into consideration the convenience of the House and the advancement of public business, will consent to the suspension of the 12 o'clock rule. With regard to the Scotch Police Bill, the hon. Member for Dundee assumed that we should bring in that Bill after 12 o'clock. I admit at once that it would be an outrage to ask the House to go into Committee for the first time on the Scotch Bill after 12 o'clock, and I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have supposed that we could be guilty of such an outrage. It might be possible to ask the House to complete that Bill after 12 o'clock with a view to making progress with the business of the House, but we should not think of asking 1937 the House to begin the Bill after 12 o'clock. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to a conversation that took place on Saturday with regard to the Scotch Bill, and to some observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh with regard to the Bill. I have taken steps to ascertain what was the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite on the subject, and I was assured by the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Bridgeton and Edinburgh that it was the main desire of the Scotch Members that the Scotch Bill should follow the English Bill. I did not realise the contingency which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton has suggested now. I put a reasonable interpretation on the information which was conveyed to me, and that interpretation was that the great majority of Scotch Members did desire that the Bill should be dealt with in the course of the present Session, and should follow the English Bill; and I think I only attribute a plain meaning to the English language when I attribute that meaning to the information I received. We have had from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton a speech which I have heard before. The hon. Gentleman expressed that extreme sensitiveness which belongs to his nature, lest anyone should malign him and suggest that he is the author of obstruction in this House. The hon. Gentleman seemed anxious that the people in the country should not attribute to him that he is capable of carrying into practice those declarations which he occasionally makes from his place in the House when he assures us that he will render to the Government every possible opposition and make use of every form of the House in order to defeat their measures—because, even if they are good measures, they proceed from a bad Government. Well, Sir, the hon. Gentleman reminds me of the old proverb, Qui s'excuse s'accuse. I have no doubt that his apologia will be read in the country, and will produce the conviction that it is "Truth," and the hon. Member will be able to pose, not only as a hero, but possibly as a martyr in the discharge of his duties, and in the protection he will give to the country against the iniquities of Her Majesty's Government, and the necessity he finds for exercising a watchful care over their 1938 doings. The hon. Gentleman attributes to me and my Colleagues on this Bench differences which he has created in his own imagination. All that has been done has been done as the act or the Cabinet and of the Government as a whole, and the hallucination under which the hon. Gentleman labours with regard to my right hon. Friend who usually sits on my right and my right hon. Friend who usually sits on my left, is only to be attributed to the disordered imagination which extreme conscientiousness occasionally produces. I would now venture to appeal to the House not to carry this Debate any further. I do not propose to avail myself of the opportunity of entering into a defence of the Government for its proceeding, during the Session. I believe that even those who differ from the Government are not desirous of hearing our defence, but are much more desirous of making progress with public business. When we have occasion to make our defence, I have no doubt that it will be received by this House as it deserves. I trust that the House will now consent to proceed with the business before it, and, in conclusion, I would remind the House that even the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) has himself admitte d that there are no Bills of a controversial character now before the House.
§ (5.23.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I regret that at the fag-end of a long Session you are about to suspend the Standing Orders, the result of which will be that the Scotch business in Supply will be taken, as has been the case for two or three years past, at 3 o'clock in the morning. My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark desires to bring forward the notorious Wishart case on an Amendment for the reduction of the salary of the Lord Advocate; then, again, the Crofters Commission Board will have to be discussed, and something must be said regarding the re-construction of the Scotch Fishery Board. There are also upon the Paper three Scotch Bills, the Police (Scotland) Bill, the Factors Bill, and the Education of Blind and Deaf Mute Children Bill; the latter being a very peculiar Bill, introducing in Scotland a principle applying the public funds in a manner which is entirely new. We are asking when the annual massacre is to take place, and yet, at this moment, the 1939 Government are proposing to consider Bills of a highly controversial character in Scotland, and determining to carry them at whatever hour they may be reached in the morning. We are unable to believe the promises of the right hon. Gentleman. Formerly, when he told us he would do certain things, we expected them to be done, but we have found that year after year his promises are only made to be broken, and that the Government practically refuse to take Scotch business until they can do so by suspending the Standing Orders. The fact is that the Government are treating us with contempt, and I am afraid are teaching my colleagues to be a source of trouble to them, as the result will probably be that they will adopt the tactics which have been so successful in the case of the Irish Members. The Irish Debates are now over, and most of the Irish Members are going about the country enjoying themselves. Scotland, however, has to wait till the very end of the Session to find that its measures have still to be passed.
§ MR. WARMINGTON (Monmouth, W.)
I should like to ask the Government whether they propose to extend this Rule to private Members' Bills which have passed the House of Lords and come back to this House?
§ *(5.28.) MR. W. P. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.)
The hon. Member for Caithness has said that Scotch measures were not considered last year until the extreme end of the Session. I would remind the House that is not the case, some of the Scotch Estimates were taken before the Whitsuntide holidays, therefore it is not fair to blame the Government, as the hon. Member has done. I hope, however, that next year it will be found convenient to take the Scotch Estimates at a somewhat earlier period than this year has been found possible.
§ *(5.30.) MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is reasonable to press forward the Youthful Offenders Bill at this period of the Session? This Bill is a new "Whipping" Bill of the most sweeping character. If it is retained on the Paper, the only result will be that Members will be kept until 2 or 3 in the morning, and the sense of grievance which they would feel would 1940 scarcely contribute to the rapid dispatch of public business.
§ (5.31.) MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he does not intend to begin the consideration of any contentious measure after 12 o'clock, and whether it is not his intention rather to make progress after 12 o'clock with certain measures that might be objected to by some individual Member? I hope myself that the Government will proceed with the Scotch Police Bill, and pass it into law. I do not think I was formally committed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, but I remember saying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton that I hoped the Government would shove along the Scotch with the English Bill. I only speak for myself, but I hope the Government will succeed in passing the Scotch Bill into law. The hon. Member for Caithness referred to the Bill for the education of the blind and deaf mute, and I am very sorry to hear that any Member of this House looks upon that as a contentious measure. It does not give us all we want, but those who are interested in this subject are anxious to make a start by getting this Bill through. I wish, further, to point out that the form of the present Motion is somewhat novel. Hitherto the suspension of the Standing Order has been moved with regard to some particular business, but this proposal is that Government business shall be taken at any hour, and I take it that means that the House might sit to any hour on Wednesday. Now, this might be drawn into a precedent, and hereafter used at an earlier period of the Session in a more drastic fashion than could be justified. I think the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven to abolish the 12 o'clock Rule would be keenly resisted by hon. Members generally, and they would be exceedingly jealous of anything that might interfere' with the practical working of that rule. We are all willing that it should be suspended on special occasions for special purposes, but we strongly deprecate any graver interference with it. I think we are entitled to an explanation why the Motion is proposed in this form.
§ (5.40.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I am sorry the hon. Member for Caithness is not in his place; but I can assure the Lord Advocate, from all I can learn, that there is a very sincere desire that the Education of the Blind and Deaf Mute Bill should be passed, and I hope the hon. Member for Caithness will not continue his opposition. I should like to add, further, that there is something to be said for Scotch Members. The First Lord of the Treasury has admitted that it is fair that the Scotch Estimates should be taken at a reasonable time. We live at a considerable distance; we have to make our arrangements; yet I do think that the First Lord has rather taken Scotch Members into his own hands. At all events, I think Scotch Members ought to be defended by him against the rather insulting remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven. I can only account for it by the fact that the Member who made the observations was not considered worthy of notice. I do not think these remarks should be repeated, if you wish the assistance of Scotch Members in the conduct of Imperial affairs. All I can say is, that if such remarks are continued the Scotch people will become more and more of the view that they should be left to conduct their own affairs without the interference of the dominant vote of English Members.
§ (5.43.) MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
Though I have Amendments down upon the Education of the Blind and Deaf Mute Bill, I regret very much that the hon. Member for Caithness regards it as a contentious Bill. I do not regard it as in any way contentious. Though it does not give nearly all that was recommended by the Royal Commission, yet it gives something, and I hope the Government are prepared to meet us by a reasonable concession, and to endeavour to pass the Bill. There is nothing of a partisan or sectarian character in the Bill, and it is one which both sides of the House desire.
§ *(5.45.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
I rise for the purpose of reminding the right hon. Gentleman that he forgot to refer to a substantial part of the observations of my hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere) with reference to forwarding Supply. The Scotch Members have vindicated their claim to be able to 1942 take care of themselves. But as an English Member, I wish to put forward a plea on behalf of English taxpayers, who, after all, form the great majority of those who contribute to the taxes, that this question of Supply should be dealt with on a more rational basis than Her Majesty's Government have dealt with it hitherto. The Government is well aware that they have broken faith with us in not. bringing the Estimates on earlier, and in regarding that as a first duty. I should like to know how, in the interests of the English taxpayers, we are to adequately discuss these Estimates at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning at the fag end of the Session? I protest most emphatically against such proceedings, and I hope my hon. Friend will carry the matter to a Division, and that he will not hesitate to raise this question on every occasion he can until we have obtained a more rational method of dealing with Supply.
§ (5.47.) MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
I cannot congratulate the Government on the particular moment they have selected for the suspension of the Rule. They have waited until the English Bill was practically through the House, and they have only begun this new system when Scotch business is coming before the House. The Government now ask us to sit until 2, 3, 4, or 5 o'clock in the morning; but if that is attempted, it will be resisted unanimously by Scotch Members. There is a special reason why the Scotch Police Bill should be considered at a reasonable time. Originally it was sent to a Committee composed of nine out of the 12 Scotch Tory Members and seven out of the 46 Scotch Liberal Members. The deliberations of a Committee of that kind in no degree correspond with the opinion of the Scotch people. The whole Bill was passed through the Committee in three days. The Report was taken under the protest of the minority. These circumstances alone constitute sufficient reason why the Bill should be discussed in this House. I do not want to make a double Division by moving the Amendment which I have upon the Paper, but I should like an assurance from the First Lord that it is not intended to press the discussion of the Scotch Police Bill at an early hour in the morning. If such a course were 1943 taken it would be doubly inexcusable, because unnecessary.
§ (5.49.) MR. W. H. SMITH
I can only speak again with the indulgenc of the House, but I wish to say that the Government has no desire to act unreasonably. We cannot enter into an engagement to report Progress at a certain fixed hour after 12 o'clock; but we wish to treat the House fairly and reasonably, and I do not think the hon. Member will have any reason to complain of the action of my Colleagues or myself in considering any reasonable objection. With reference to the question of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Warmington) with regard to Bills coming down amended from the House of Lords, it will be the duty of the Government to give the House an opportunity of considering those Amendments. With regard to the Deaf and Dumb Children (Scotland) Bill, I hope when it comes down from the House of Lords that we shall have the assistance of the great majority of the Scotch Members in passing it. There is, I am glad to say, no sectarian feeling involved.
§ (5.50.) The House divided:—Ayes 199; Noes 50.—(Div. List, No. 232.)