§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *(4.28.) MR. JENNINGS (Stockport)
I wish to call the attention of the House to the method which is now adopted of managing the business of Supply. It is quite evident that we cannot look upon the arrangement this year as a mere accident. It is part of a system which is now becoming fixed and established in Parliamentary procedure, the system of thrusting Supply into the background and of hindering and discouraging any discussion upon it. The plan of action is, put off Supply and endeavour by any means whatever to baffle anyone who presumes to criticise it. The latest development of this plan is to get it deferred till the very last days of the Session, and to take care to suspend the Standing Orders before it is brought on. After that is done, we are treated to a performance with which we are becoming familiar. One of the leaders of the Opposition looks in casually and asks the First Lord of the Treasury at what date Supply must be closed to enable the House to adjourn in, say, a week. The First Lord is very much shocked at the bare suggestion; but he braces himself up to meet it, and announces that he can allow about 24 hours for the remaining Votes. This liberal offer is received with effusion by the representative of the 1152 Opposition; both sides have a stage embrace, and the entertainment concludes with a grand dissolving view, in which the whole of the Estimates disappear. The part of the unsophisticated countryman, who drops into the show accidentally, was this year taken by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), and it is needless to say that the First Lord of the Treasury received him with even more than his usual benevolence. The ins and the outs stand together on these matters. There is not a pin to choose between them. The great thing is to keep off impertinent outsiders. But an object much more important than this is accomplished. The House of Commons is deprived of that efficient control over public expenditure which it used to guard so jealously. It is compelled by insidious means to relinquish that control into other hands. What we have left to us now is the form without the substance. One of the most ancient functions of this House, and that which practically brought it into existence, is for the present in abeyance. What are the facts about the present Session? Only seven Sittings were devoted to Supply prior to Whitsuntide. Thus, during the most valuable part of the Session, this vital business—the only business which absolutely must be done before we can separate—was deliberately shelved. But the day before the House separated for the Recess, a Vote on Account was taken for nearly £4,000,000. That is the favourite and approved method of managing the expenditure of this country nowadays—by means of Votes on Account. When they are once smuggled through, no Government cares a brass farthing how long regular grants of Supply are deferred. If the House will give them money without discussion, why should they have the discussion? It is often inconvenient; it sometimes brings to notice many unpleasant facts, and it lets the daylight into dark corners. Therefore, it is the Votes on Account which Secretaries to the Treasury delight in, and which they are scheming to put upon a permanent footing. But it is not the constitutional system. Votes on Account are a modern innovation. In former days they were not asked for unless to meet some emergency, or in anticipation of a Dissolution. Now they 1153 form part of the routine of the Session, The year before last three were taken; last year the same number; this year two, besides a shower of Supplementary Estimates. I think the time will come when the House of Commons will not be juggled with in this manner. Warned by its experiences in the past, it will refuse to grant Votes on Account—at any rate, after the first Vote—without adequate discussion. If we cannot get at the Estimates in any other way, we must get at them through the Votes on Account. Then we have been treated to another discovery in the art of manipulating public expenditure and of gagging the House of Commons. Votes are fished out here and there to suit the convenience of heads of Departments. No one now is allowed to know when any Vote is coming on, or when it will be finished, or what Report of a Royal Commission will be tacked on to it so as to divert attention from the Vote itself. All these are new practices. It used to be the rule to take each class in its proper order; but now, if any opposition is threatened to a particular Vote, that Vote is purposely kept in the background. For three years I have been trying to bring the expenditure on the Admiralty Office before the notice of the House of Commons. That Office is an epitome of all that is extravagant, foolish, and bad in the Public Service. Last year and the year before I was obliged to withdraw my opposition to the Vote because it was put brick to the last hours of the Session. This year I began very early to try to guard against a similar result. On the 14th of February—soon enough, in all conscience—I asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he would not take this Vote early in the year. His reply was that he would "make a note of the request," as he remembered that I had "twice postponed the observations I wished to make on this Vote to facilitate public business." I put similar questions afterwards, and always received similar replies—the Vote shall be brought on in good season. It was actually presented to us on the 8th of August, when about 90 other Votes had to be taken in a few days, and even then a discussion on the Report of the Hartington Commission was adroitly fastened upon it. It would have been ridiculous to raise a long discussion on 1154 the expenses of the Office. Before one has been many years in this House, one finds out that the promise of a Minister does not always mean quite the same thing as the promise of a private gentleman made out of doors. But the answer to all such complaints as these is that Debates in Supply never save the public money, and merely result in a waste of time. This is a theory which the "two Front Benches" industriously spread abroad. When they are not themselves holding forth, which they are doing at least three parts of the Session, everything that goes on here is a waste of time. The noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (Lord Hartington) complained the other day of long speeches and bores. Does he suppose that there are no bores in the House except those who sit on the back Benches? We who are the helpless victims could tell the public a very different tale. Let an account be taken of the number of hours occupied every Session by the two Front Benches, with their futile controversies and their interminable harangues, and it will soon be seen who wastes the time of the House. Last year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) came down and stated (April 20, 1889) that during the preceding 20 years all discussions in Committee of Supply had only resulted in a saving of £50,000. We can imagine with what delight the Secretary to the Treasury received this announcement from the ex-Secretary to the Treasury. Once more the curtain descended amid applause on Box and Cox. But the statement, and all the data upon which it is founded, are utterly delusive. The figures in question are obtained by carefully excluding from consideration everything but the immediate result of a Motion for the reduction of a Vote. Yet it is manifestly impossible to form a fair judgment on the question by confining inquiry to this narrow field. The reduction moved is often merely nominal in amount, and it is, perhaps, withdrawn upon a promise that the subject shall receive proper attention before the next Estimates are submitted. In any case, a reduction is rarely carried against the whole force of the Government. That year, consequently, there is no saving shown. But if the point raised has been a strong one, and if it has been 1155 well pressed home, the Government take the hint, and the Vote is reduced in a future year. Numerous examples of this could be given, and, therefore, to form a judgment merely on the immediate effect of the discussion is to follow an utterly misleading test. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton is obviously based on a Return laid before the Select Committee of 1888 by one of the clerks of the House, Mr. Milman. But in handing in this Return Mr. Milman endeavoured to guard against the very misuse of which complaint has been made. He was careful to state (Q. 435)—The effective reductions made by the Committee are few; but the great influence of the Committee is the impression that its Debates make upon the Government. The actual reduction may perhaps only be £300; but, of course, if the Government see that the House is unfavourable to a particular line of expenditure, without bringing about a reduction in the Vote of that year, the Debates very much influence the policy of the Government upon particular Votes to which material objection is taken.And, again, he plainly said that his Return was not to be taken as an index to the effect of discussions in Committee of Supply. (Q. 549). The truth is, that discussions in Supply often result in most material reductions of expenditure, and most important changes of policy. They keep down the tendency to extravagance which runs through all Departments, and prevent the perpetration of many a job. But officials are always craving to acquire the absolute control of this business, and they never cease to do all that they can to bring these discussions into derision. Again, we are told that time is occupied with haggling over petty details of expenditure. That, no doubt, does happen occasionally, and the utmost advantage is always taken of it. The incident is described at full length in all the Papers, and officials make it part of their stock-in-trade all through the Recess. They take good care never to mention their own errors and follies, their abortive schemes, their programmes of legislation which are utterly unmanageable, and their scoldings, quarrellings, and recriminations, of which everybody but themselves is sick and tired. Over all that, a discreet veil is drawn. As a general rule, a surprisingly 1156 short space of time is devoted to the discussion of actual expenditure. Everything runs off upon questions of policy. Take the Foreign Office. What happens is this: a kind of party is made up to go round the globe, followed by the Under Secretary, who contrives to give as little information as he can at the various points of interest. In the course of this journey, almost everything will have a chance of being discussed except the enormous cost of carrying on the Department. The range of discussion on these Votes grows wider and wider every year, and why is that? It is because the opportunities afforded to private Members to bring up outside subjects are being steadily and persistently curtailed. Many a subject which used to be disposed of with Mr. Speaker in the Chair is now brought up in Committee of Supply, where Members can speak as often as they choose. Consequently, there has been a great loss instead of a saving of time. And now, as a remedy, it is proposed to send all the Estimates to be dealt with in a smaller Committee. Sir Erskine May, before the Select Committee of 1871, Q. 98, declared that he would not recommend this change in our procedure.I think," he said, "a Committee of Supply should certainly be a Committee of the whole House, and nothing short of that.But suppose we took this rash step, how could it possibly save much time? The questions of policy which are involved in the Votes would still be discussed in the House. The Committee upstairs would go through the figures, and report to the House, and then Members interested in various topics would insist upon discussing them as usual. The very thing which consumes the time now would consume it then. The only difference would be, that Members could only speak once on Report, but that change could be made by an alteration in the rules limiting Members to one speech on each Vote in Committee of Supply, and even restricting them to a limited time. Those would be far less serious changes than removing Supply from a Committee of the whole House. The money itself is voted away in a helter-skelter fashion. I have taken notes from time to time of feats which have been accomplished in this direction, and I find that even early in the Session large amounts are voted without discussion. 1157 On Thursday, May 9,1889, seven Votes were got in Class II., although the House did not go into Committee till past 7. The following day, at a Morning Sitting, nine other Votes were taken. On the 18th of June, 27 Votes were obtained at one Sitting, representing an expenditure of £17,143,300 (Army and Navy). Eight of these Votes were passed in 20 minutes. The day before the Easter holidays this year, all Class 1. of the Civil Service Estimates was got without much trouble, the amount voted being £1,595,000. On the 17th of March, nearly the whole of the Navy Estimates were obtained at a single Sitting; that is to say, from Votes 1 to 15, including Works, Buildings, Repairs, Wages, and almost everything of importance connected with the Navy. The amount voted was £7,822,600. August, however, is the harvest month of the Treasury. Then the Secretary to the Treasury puts in his sickle and mows the whole crop, while everybody else is asleep. I find from my notes that on Saturday, August 17, 1889, 8 Votes were obtained in Class VI., 6 in Class VII., 2 in Revenue Departments, 5 in Class IV.—altogether 21 Votes. This was eclipsed on the same day two years previously (1887), when 45 Votes were got in one night. On 22nd August, 8 Votes were taken in Class II., 12 in Class III., 2 in Revenue Departments, 2 Army, and 8 in Class V.; the next day 18 Votes were got—or 50 Votes in two days. A machine could not do it much faster. On the 9th of this month, August 1890, we voted away £6,950,126; on the 13th we got through 48 Votes at a single Sitting. This is how the present system works—badly, as I think, for the House and the country alike. Every year finds the House of Commons growing weaker and weaker in this matter, and the Government of the day succeeds in forcing it to perform merely mechanical functions. If nothing can be done to check this, the House will have received another heavy blow, levelled not by obstructionists, but by those who were bound in honour to defend it from attack. Rather than continue to be parties to the present mockery, it would be far better for us to go back to our constituents and inform them that they need not look to us for any attempt to exercise supervision over the public expenditure; that all such 1158 business is now managed in secret by the Government of the day, and that the House of Commons has renounced a right for the vindication of which it once carried out a revolution. Either in the form of an Amendment to the Address, or in some other way, I will endeavour next Session to force the Government to bring on the Estimates at a period when they can be discussed in a rational manner.
§ *(4.54.) MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)
I wish to say a few words in support of the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. The result of the Sittings of the Select Committee referred to was not quite that which was expected. It did not recommend that Supply should be referred to a Grand Committee. I cannot help thinking that the action of the Government since that time has been rather in the direction of trying to starve out opposition in this House, in order that it may induce the House to refer Supply to an outside Committee. I wish to say a word about the utility of Supply in enabling hon. Members to ventilate new schemes of policy. Probably independent Members on both sides value Committee of Supply very much more from that point of view than from the point of view of control over expenditure. Certainly Committee of Supply affords practically the only opportunity we Scottish Members get for bringing up matters relating to Scottish administration with a view to legislation in the future. Last Session it was pointed out that, as we had occupied a good deal of time on the Local Government Bill, we might let Supply go through practically without discussion. This Session the principal Scotch Votes were taken practically on one night. Not only did the Scotch Votes receive inadequate discussion, but the Science and Art Votes, and others of exceptional interest, were taken without any discussion whatever. The object of the discussion a few days ago on the Home Office Vote was not to criticise the expenditure of the Home Office, but to urge on the right hon. Gentleman, who is mainly responsible for mines regulation, the necessity for some alteration in the law. Until we have some opportunity of bringing forward our grievances otherwise than on the Estimates, we are not 1159 going to forego this, which is the sole opportunity we have. It seems to me very desirable that next Session there should be a strong movement in favour of having fixed times for the discussion of Supply. Let the Government set apart definitely time for the Estimates, and Members will understand their position. As it is, we have few opportunities of bringing up subjects in which we are interested. I am perfectly certain that if the Government were to set apart, say, one day a week, it would be found that hon. Members would be able to make arrangements with each other, would be able to show consideration for each other, and the time would be occupied with much more effective discussion. What the Secretary to the Treasury aims at is the saving of time in the voting of money. By the method I suggest he would get his money very much more quickly, and we ourselves would be satisfied with obtaining definite opportunities of stating our grievances. I earnestly trust that the Government will, during the Recess, give their most serious attention to this grievance. It has never reached the height it has this Session, when the whole of the Votes are brought on nearly at its close, because the greater part of the Session has been mis-spent. I hope that the Estimates will be brought on earlier next Session, when the Government will not attempt the unsuccessful programme of this Session.
§ (5.3.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I am very glad that the hon. Member opposite has spirited himself up to criticise the conduct of Ministers of this House. I will point out the real reason why Ministers are independent of this House, why they may do whatever they like, and violate the principle, although they keep the letter, of the Rules of this House. It is the absolute want of independence of Members on the other side of the House. If we protest against the action of the Government, the suggestion is that we are actuated by Party feeling. When Ministers are kept in proper order, it is when there is a sufficient number of independent Members on their own side who do not allow them to do precisely what they like. For instance, ,the Chief Secretary for Ireland was an excellent independent Mem-1160 ber. I remember he and several others sitting in this very place, and they kept in pretty good and reasonable order the Conservative Party for a considerable time. They did their best. But who are their successors? They have got their places on the Treasury Bench. They have no successors. This has never occurred before. And I do urge Gentlemen opposite to have some regard for the decencies of this House by aiding us to induce Ministers not to do more than their predecessors have always done in these matters. Hon. Gentlemen have complained of the waste of time on the part of the two Front Benches. It is a most deplorable feature of this House, this deplorable pot-and-kettle dispute between the two Front Benches. Ministers and ex-Ministers seem to spend the best part of their time in reading the old speeches of each other. Someone gets up on the Front Opposition Bench and says that years ago some Minister had taken a perfectly opposite view. At first the Minister denies it; then he says, "If I am guilty look what my opponent has done. Ten years ago he entertained an entirely opposite opinion." Neither this House nor the country cares one sixpence about Ministers' consistency; in fact, I will go so far as to say that the best Minister is the most inconsistent Minister. I want a man to ripen. He may entertain foolish opinions occasionally; but as he goes on, and is more acquainted with public affairs, he becomes wiser. It is complained that Scotch Members have not sufficient time to discuss Scotch Estimates. That may be so, and I am bound to say that they use to the best advantage the opportunities given them. It is used as an argument by both Scotch and Irish Members in favour of their having preference over English Members that they live such a long way off. I could never understand the force of that argument, because a Member, whether he live in Scotland or Northamptonshire, cannot be in two places at once. He cannot be at his home and in this House at the same time; and, being here, I cannot see why the fact of his living at a distance should give him preference over an English Member. I think it would be infinitely better to take the Estimates as they are set down, whether Scotch, English, or Irish. My 1161 own belief really is that Ministers would gain rather by doing that than by making arrangements with particular Members to give them opportunities to air their grievances. Nobody can deny for a moment that the proceedings of last Wednesday were a gross scandal. Fortyeight Votes were hurried through in six or seven hours. There were very few Members in the House, and we thought it more dignified to protest by our silence against this gross abuse. We intend during the Recess to have a good deal to say about the mode in which the Estimates are conducted. What is the meaning of the Estimates? It is that Parliament should have control over the public expenditure. It is very obvious that if this control is to be a reality, they must be submitted at a time when they can be fully and legitimately discussed. Remember that only a few years ago, on the Motion to go into Committee on the Estimates, we were allowed to say anything we liked. We have been deprived of that. Then we have been deprived of one of the days of the week, and now, after the first week of the Session, we have not any opportunity, excepting on the Estimates, to raise the grievances which we think, rightly or wrongly, ought to be submitted to the House. The normal business of the Government is to submit the Estimates, and the normal business of the House is to discuss them. Nobody can say that the Government have fulfilled their normal duty this Session. But the action of the Government has been all the worse, because there was a specific and definite pledge last year from the First Lord of the Treasury that the Estimates should be submitted at a reasonable time. A few days were spent at the commencement of the Session on the Estimates, and then we heard no more of them until nearly the end of the Session. Why is this? Because the Government have adopted an entirely false view of how the business of this House should be conducted. The Government think that their first duty is to bring forward Party Bills, and that they should be carried with as little discussion as possible; but that if there is large and extensive discussion, then that the Estimates must be put back. Now, I say that the Estimates ought, at least, to run parallel with the 1162 Bills; they should be spread over the Session. What do the Government say? That there has grown up in the present Parliament a horrible and pernicious system of obstruction. I and others, I imagine, consider it a duty to use all the Forms of the House to hinder being passed into law Bills which involve great expenditure without the country being asked to express an opinion upon them. Take, for instance, the Irish Land Bill. At the last General Election most hon. Gentlemen opposite obtained their seats on pledging themselves to vote against any Imperial guarantee for the purchase of Irish land. To support he Irish Land Purchase Bill is not merely going beyond their mandate, but is going contrary to their mandate and the pledges they have given: Surely, therefore, if the Government use the Forms of the House to force their Bill through, we have the right to use those same Forms to resist its passage. Our duty in regard to what is called obstruction is more manifest than at first sight appears. The Conservative Party when they are out of Office have the House of Lords to fall back upon. If the Liberals bring in a Bill which does not meet with the approval of the Conservatives the House of Lords can throw it out, and so provoke a General Election. We are not able to do that. It is on that ground that I try in this House to perform the part of a Radical Peer by doing my best to do away with the House of Lords, which has no mandate. I am particularly amused at the complaints of the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale about obstruction. Why, the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the Liberal Unionists declared over and over again that one reason why it was useless for the country to declare itself in favour of Home Rule was that the measure could not be carried for several years. They have declared again and again that they will use all the Forms not only of this, but the other, House to prevent the measure being passed. I think the Government has certainly exceeded its general mandate. For my part, I am a Triennial Parliament man, but, at any rate, I think, under the present system, four years is quite 1163 enough for any Parliament. After four years it is the business of any Member of this House to do his best to force a General Election, because it is not certain that the Government represent the views of the country, though they may have done so four years before. Now, this Session obstruction has not been necessary, simply because the Ministers have been good enough to obstruct each other. We have complained that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has ceased to be a Liberal; but I believe we are making a mistake. I believe the right hon. Gentleman is a thorough-going Liberal, and I believe he is doing his very best to upset the Government. I tender to the right, hon. Gentleman my most grateful thanks for what he has done this Session, which has proved an abortive and a barren one. I trust that every Session, while the present Government are in power, will prove abortive and barren. The hon. Gentleman said that next Session he intended to move an Amendment to the Address, in order to call attention to the necessity of bringing the Estimates forward at the proper time. I shall put down an Amendment in case the hon. Gentleman does not turn up to press his. I hope the hon. Gentleman will. At the same time, I know perfectly well that my Amendment will be lost; still, we will have made our protest. I think the second plan suggested by the hon. Gentleman is the better. It is that when the Vote on Account is brought on it should be discussed in all its details. I apprehend that is entirely in conformity with the Rules of the House. It is usual, though not absolute law, to pass a Vote on Account early in the Session for a month or six weeks. When the second Vote is taken, there should be furnished a Paper showing how much is to be allocated to each Department, and on that Paper we can discuss the Estimates. We have only to carry out that which is our right, to put an end to this attempt of the Government to slip their Estimates through at the fag-end of the Session without any species of discussion. Still, there is a more drastic mode of meeting this question. It is that this House, which is becoming very flabby, should be roused by what I may term an electoral bark. Let us appeal to our constituents. If hon. Gentlemen come back with a majority in favour of any 1164 particular Bill, I certainly shall not feel it my duty obstructively to interfere with, the passage of that Bill. Lord Salisbury the other day at the Mansion House said the country wants and will have legislation. The best proof that the country, does not want Conservative legislation at the present time is that it does not get it. If there were any leverage behind Ministers, Conservative or Liberal, they would be able to crush out any species of obstruction. Hon. Gentlemen opposite say the country is indignant at our course. I cannot find the proof. Without attaching to them too much importance, the bye-elections do not show it. Certainly those elections have not been very much in favour of the Government. On the contrary, I believe that the indignation is with those who continue in office that they and their friends may raid upon the funds of the country. I believe that if we had an election at the present moment we would gain a majority, and I think it is because hon. Gentlemen opposite are aware that we would have a majority that we have not had a General Election.
§ *(5.23.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N)
We remember that the hon. Member opposite announced that he would do everything he possibly could to prevent legislation.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I never made any such announcement. I said if the Government brought in a good Bill I would warmly support it. They do not bring it in.
§ MR. BARTLEY
I may be dense, and perhaps other Members of Parliament are equally dense, but I think the impression conveyed to hon. Members was that the hon. Member for Northampton said he would feel it his duty to prevent legislation in every conceivable way. I fully acknowledge that it is unfortunate the Estimates have been brought on at the end of the Session. But we must look at the matter in a straightforward way. How in the world could the Government have acted in any other way? We know very well that, whether brought on at the beginning, middle, or end of the Session, hon. Members opposite would render it impossible for any legislation to be carried out if they could. Look at the exact facts of the case. The Government have got two days a week for 1165 their public business. There are over 200 Votes to take, and, at one hour a Vote, the whole time of the Government would be absorbed. But the Government have an immense deal of other business which they must get through. The hon. Member for Northampton says "that there is to be a full discussion on the details of each Vote on Account, if more than one is taken, to last over six weeks. The Government would find it absolutely impossible to get Supply through in 12 days, which represents six weeks of the Session. Therefore, a second Vote on Account is necessary. The real crux is that unless hon. Members behave reasonably, it will be impossible to get through the business of the House. We must look at this matter from a commonsense point of view. Irish and Scotch Members say that they do not get enough time; indeed, every section of the House would like the whole time of the Session. The Irish Members get an enormous deal too much time. When we see such discussions as took place last night, or rather this morning; when we see the reckless and absolute obstruction which takes place on a Bill brought in principally at the request of Irish Members, then I think the country ought to understand the cause of this delay of Parliamentary business. The hon. Member for Northampton, no doubt, does not care to see Party Bills discussed when this Party is in Office, though no doubt he would not object to seeing a Home Rule Bill discussed were his Party in power. In 1886, most of the Session was occupied in considering the Home Rule Bill. There was no mandate from the country to consider that. I think it is rather hard that the Government should be attacked by my hon. Friend in this way. The Government have had a phalanx of the most reckless obstructionists to meet. These men are doing their best to render the transaction of business impossible, and it is a great pity that some Members on the Ministerial side of the House should encourage them. We ought to alter the Rules of the House in order to put a stop to obstruction. The only way to accomplish that is to silence altogether for the Session the Members who render the transaction of business almost impossible .Let them vote by all means, but let 1166 them not speak. Until the House adopts some such method of silencing and stopping these perpetual talkers and obstructors we shall never be able to devote our attention properly to legislation or the granting of Supply.
§ (5.33.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
The true moral is, that the work undertaken by the House is more than it can possibly accomplish. It is not the fault of the Government or of Members below the Gangway; the defect is in the system, and the only solution is to devolve the work upon people who can do it. I am glad that the Liberal Party has adopted the principle of Home Rule, which will devolve a great deal of work on Local Authorities, and will leave this House to do its Imperial work thoroughly and well. Referring to the question of perpetual pensions, I wish to point out to the Secretary to the Treasury that the policy of the Government is to redeem them by making them perpetual at our cost. That is a very unfair way of putting an end to them. Some of these pensions were voted in perpetuity by previous Parliaments, and the Treasury method of terminating them is to buy them out at 27 years' purchase. That is really making those pensions perpetual in another form at the cost of the country. The hon. Members for Stockport and Northampton have been fighting the Treasury on the question whether the rate of purchase should be 22 years or 27 years; and it appears to me it is a case of the difference between tweedledum and tweedledee. I think that the only way to meet these claims fairly and generously would be to give the money to the present pensioners and their living heirs. As to the other class of perpetual pensions, where no service has been rendered, I think due notice should be given that in five years they will cease. Hon. Members on this side intended to use all the Forms of the House in order to raise this question under such circumstances as will compel hon. Gentlemen opposite to give us a fair hearing. I do not see what use it is for the junior Member for Northampton to pretend he wants to get rid of this evil; all he is fighting for is whether the rate of purchase shall be 22 years or 25 years.
§ MR. JENNINGS
If it had not been for the efforts of the hon. Member for 1167 Northampton in making public the facts there would have been no Committee on Perpetual Pensions.
§ *(5.40.) THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON, Leeds, N.)
I will endeavour to reply to the various speeches made. I have no fault to find with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport for bringing forward this question. It is a subject in which every Member of the House may very properly take a deep interest. I think, however, that a good case can be made out for the course which has been taken during the last two years. It is absolutely necessary, and the necessity cannot be avoided, to take a Vote on Account for each of the Civil Service Votes. As regards the Army and Navy, there is a power of transfer between one Vote and another, but there is no such power of transfer as regards the Civil Service Votes. No doubt in some cases it would be convenient that there should be such a power of transfer, and, if so, it would be possible by taking one or two Votes for large sums to avoid taking Votes on Account. This year, fortunately, the Government have been able to do with only two Votes on Account; but in most years it has been necessary to take three Votes on Account, because, until the whole of the Votes are taken, of course it may happen that a particular Department is short of money, and a Vote on Account becomes necessary. In recent years it has been customary to restrict Votes on Account to two months' grant; and if the House sits for six months, it becomes almost necessary to take a third Vote on Account. There are two difficulties in the way: One is, that the Government have only a limited number of days at their disposal; and the other is, that there has grown up a habit of speaking at much greater length and discussing matters of detail to a much greater extent than was formerly the case; and as long as that goes on, I look almost hopelessly for any means to remedy what is justly complained of by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport and 1168 the other Members who have spoken, namely, that a great many Votes have to be taken in a hurried manner at the close of the Session. That certainly is not the fault of the Government. This year and last year the Government have devoted more time to Supply than in any similar period during the last 20 years. No plan is so simple and so desirable as to begin with the Votes in the order in which they appear on the Estimates and to go straight through with them. The Government began this year with the intention of pursuing that course. Some important question may arise, and the leader of the Opposition will request the Government to afford facilities in Committee of Supply for discussing a particular subject. The Government, to meet the convenience of hon. Members, concede the request, and thus the order is broken. My hon. Friend seems to think that the Government have postponed important Votes, and have not given as much time to Supply in the earlier part of the Session as ought to have been given. I have caused a statement to be drawn up showing the total number of days devoted to Supply in each Session since 1872. The Return, was made up to the end of May, the end of June, and the end of July, and last year was excluded altogether, because an exceptionally large number of days were then devoted to Supply in the earlier part of the Session. Up to the end of May in the present year five days were devoted to Supply, which, with the exception of 1878, is the largest number since 1872. Up to the end of June this year nine days were given to Supply, which again is the highest number, with the exception of 1878. Up to the end of July 20 days were given to Supply, which is a number considerably greater than in any preceding year since 1881, for there is no record concerning the years from 1872 to 1881. There is yet another way of testing the comparative periods given to the discussion of Supply. From 1875 to 1879 the average number of days devoted to Supply in each year was 23; from 1880 to 1885 the average was 26; and from 1887 to 1890 the average was 40. This shows that in recent years much more discussion in Supply has occurred than formerly. I make no complaint, because I 1169 am strongly of opinion that legitimate discussion in Committee of Supply is not only valuable for calling attention to grievances, but also for giving backbone to the Government in resisting the financial demands made upon them. The hon. Member for Northampton has spoken of what he calls obstruction. The description is not mine, but the hon. Member's. Speaking in Devonshire, the hon. Member for Northampton said, "I have obstructed; I do obstruct; and I regret that I have not obstructed more." The Government have given a larger amount of time for discussion in Supply than any of their predecessors. But there is a constantly increasing quantity of business to be transacted, and hon. Members ought to endeavour to avoid the discussion of petty details, not in themselves effecting any great economies, and devote themselves to discussing matters which will secure economy and efficiency in the administration of the various Departments. Speaking as a Member of the Government, I should welcome any assistance which the House would give in this direction.
§ *(5.55.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
I listened, in common with other Members of the House, with great interest to the speech delivered by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stock-port. The hon. Member always interests deeply the Members of this House when he speaks on any subject whatever, but I cannot help hoping that next Session he will be found not merely speaking, but voting in favour of the views he so admirably expresses from time to time in this House. Up to the present the hon. Member has talked, but not acted. I hope that state of things will be reversed next Session, and that we shall have him joining us in our efforts to effect the very useful reforms to which he has referred. I quite agree with him that it would be dangerous to relegate the question of Supply to a Grand Committee. I have had two or three years' experience on the Grand Committee on Law, and the experience I have gathered there does not warrant me in thinking it would be safe to entrust such an important function to a Committee of that kind. We had this year—only a few weeks ago—one of the 1170 most important Bills submitted to that Grand Committee which has ever been brought under our notice. I refer to the Bill for the consolidation of the various Acts affecting the housing of the working classes. The form in. which the Bill was presented to the Committee, the President of the Poor Law Board admitted, rendered it almost impossible for anyone to fully understand it. There were interpolations here and excisions there, and it was one of the most extraordinary Bills we have ever had, and yet it was rushed through the Grand Committee in three hours and a half. Why was that? It was quite clear to me and to other members of the Committee, who did not take an official view of it, that the Government were anxious to go to the country and make capital out of the fact that they had passed the Bill, an excellent measure as they will probably describe it, but one which is, I think, full of defects that will have to be remedied at an early date. I can just imagine that the Members of the Government and their supporters behind them will, at the various meetings they will address during the Recess, make as much capital out of the fact as they possibly can. But they will fail to tell the audiences how this Bill was rushed through the Grand Committee on Law, or of the defects which it contains, and which will have at no distant day to be remedied. When the Bill was brought into this House for the Third Reading, that stage was carried through in an extraordinary manner. I was anxious to propose Amendments, but it was impossible to do so in the Grand Committee, and I therefore hoped to be able to move to re-commit the Bill when it was sent back to this House. But again I was disappointed in that hope; I was pretty watchful, but somehow, I scarcely know how, I failed to ascertain, the particular moment at which the Bill was to be taken, and, as a result, the Bill was almost smuggled through its last stages. If the House will bear with me for a few moments, I should like to point out two or three defects which the Bill contains, for, to my mind, if it had only been passed in a complete and perfect form, it would have been one of the most valuable measures that has ever been adopted by this House. I dare- 1171 say my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury will draw attention to what is occurring in his own constituency, which proves that power ought to be given to the Treasury or some other Governmental Office to prevent Local Authorities from forcing working people from a locality without having provided homes for them elsewhere. Not long ago, in Chelsea, hundreds of working men, women, and children were driven away by the ground landlord that he might clear the site for other dwellings. I was anxious to propose a clause in the Bill on this subject with the view to preventing this sudden displacement of sections of the population, but I had no opportunity of doing s). There is another very important defect in the Bill to which I refer——
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is not in order in discussing the provisions of another Bill on the Appropriation Bill.
§ MR. CREMER
I will not go into a discussion of that Bill, though I think greater facilities ought to have been given for a discussion of a measure of the kind, and that it ought not to have been rushed through Grand Committee in three hours and a half, and then got through this House in a still more speedy and mysterious manner. I venture to predict that this Bill, which was to consolidate the Statutes, will have to be amended at no distant date. The Chief Commissioner of Works, in conjunction with the Secretary to the Treasury, has been considering for three or four years how to get rid of the evils of contracting for workmen in Government establishments. Some Members are content with an answer of the kind which has been given to me; but if you want to get anything in this House, you have to keep pegging away; and I shall keep pegging away at this question. I believe the contract under which workmen are employed in this House and various Government Offices expires on the 31st March, and I want to know whether that contract will be renewed. It seems to me abominable that poor men, who ought to have every penny they earn, should be subjected to shameful deductions by the contractor, in some cases to the extent of 20, 30, and 40 per cent. If I am correctly informed, in one Department of the British Museum the contractor deducts from the scanty earn- 1172 ings of his men between 7s. and 9s. per week. I believe the Secretary to the Treasury is really anxious to do something to get rid of or to modify this system. But what I contend is that it is not modification we want,' but total abolition of this system. I will take care next Session to watch my opportunity to ventilate the whole question. With regard to the discontent which exists in the Post Office, anyone who has watched the proceedings of the last few months must have come to the conclusion that the Department is honeycombed with discontent, from some cause or other, whether the fault of the Postmaster General or the permanent officials. The right hon. Gentleman said he had "stamped out rebellion." That was the phrase he used. I admit that the Post Office employés' attempt was one of the most foolish ever made by a body of men. We hear many taunts and sneers levelled at agitators, but it is a fact that representatives of the Post Office employés sought an interview with hon. Members of this House, who are supposed to be more directly representative of labour than others. We gave those representatives our advice, which was to seek remedy of their grievances in a constitutional way. Unfortunately, they listened to other and more pernicious counsels, and we know what the result has been. Still, the Post Office is rife with discontent. The other night, however, the Postmaster General graciously informed me that he intended to raise the salaries of the countermen of the Post Office, by 40 per cent. in some instances, and 20 in others. I went away glad that the right hon. Gentleman was going to do that hard worked and badly paid class of servants justice. But when I spoke with the Postmaster of a certain district he informed me that the promise of the right hon. Gentleman would not affect those who had petitioned the Postmaster for five years. I will not discuss the point now, but it is a fact that these countermen, who petitioned two or three years ago, will have to wait five years before the prayer of their Petition is acceded to. There is only one other point to which I wish to call attention, that is the salaries and expenses of the Office of Registrar of Friendly Societies. I, for one, am pre- 1173 pared to get rid of the institution altogether, at least in the form in which it exists. So far as I can gather among the officers of Friendly Societies it is looked upon as perfectly useless, and unless it is re modelled and new chief officers appointed, and the whole institution re-cast, I think I shall undertake to move the rejection of the Vote next year. I think the Secretary to the Treasury will agree with me, when he has given further consideration to the subject, that the Office of the Registrar of Friendly Societies is an institution which requires to be re-modelled.
*(6.20.) MR. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
I hope I shall not be considered as unduly taking up the time of the House in calling the attention of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the present condition of the negotiations between the United States and this country on the subject of the Behring Sea Fishery. When a question has come to the point at which two nations so closely allied and having so much in common are brought to a condition in which they have said very nearly the last word to one another, it becomes of the greatest importance that we should consider in what position the matter stands. I regret that the Foreign Office has not at an earlier period given the Papers on the subject. The correspondence has been published in Canada and in the States, but though a promise was made early in April that the Papers would be produced, it is only just as I am rising to speak that my right hon. Friend has presented me with this large Blue Book. It is a great pity that upon such an important question the Government have not been able to produce the correspondence at an earlier date. The locus in quo, the Behring Sea, has been claimed by the United States as a mare clausum, as a place for which they have a right to pass and in which they have a right to enforce their own municipal law, and in which other nations have no rights. The claim is altogether monstrous. They represent as an inland sea a tract of ocean comparable in extent to the North Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico. Reaching up in the North to the Arctic Ocean, and on the South to the Archipelago, of the Aleutian Islands, is a large tract of water 1,000 miles in extent from North 1174 to South, and over many degrees of longitude from East to West, with openings between the islands from double the width of the Channel between England and France to about 120 miles between the most westerly American and the most easterly Russian island. This part of the case was fully discussed during the early part of the correspondence, and Lord Salisbury, in August, 1887, said that the Government of the United States would admit that the seizure and condemnation of British vessels and the imprisonment of masters and crew were not warranted by the circumstances, and hoped that compensation would be afforded, and steps taken to prevent a recurrence of those incidents. In 1889, after further correspondence, I learn from the Papers laid before Congress that Lord Salisbury protested against the renewal of the seizures, pointing out that they were wholly unjustified by International Law. I need not now dwell upon the habits of these animals which form the subject of dispute, and in which the United States are setting up a sort of proprietary right. In the centre of the Behring Sea are two islands, St. Paul's and St. George's, formerly belonging to Russia, and sold by her as part of Alaska to the United States. The seals appear to go down as far as San Francisco in each year, and return for the purpose of breeding to these two islands. Those islands are leased to and carefully guarded by the Alaskan Company, and an enormous revenue accrues to the United States from the seals killed on them. The animals that are not breeding remain on the sea, where they consume enormous quantities of fish, and then lie basking in the sun, to fall a prey to the spear of the Indian, or the rifle of the white hunter. The United States has legislated for the territory of Alaska, and penalties have been provided in the case of persons killing a fur-bearing seal in the Alaskan territory or the waters thereof. If "the waters there of" are to be construed as merely the territorial waters, then this legislation is, of course, within their constitutional rights; but if it is intended to bring within their jurisdiction the whole of the waters to the north of the chain of the Aleutians, then they are legislating on a matter as to which they have no 1175 right at all. British Columbian schooners, for example, start on their errand from British Columbia to catch seals in the open sea. If they go within the territorial waters they are liable to the territorial laws of Alaska, but so long as they keep to the open sea they are not amenable. Seizures, professedly under this Act, took place in 1886 and 1887. In 1888, in consequence of strong remonstrances from Lord Iddesleigh and Lord Salisbury, a proclamation was issued by the United States under which the sealers were left alone. The proclamation, however, was withdrawn in 1889, and the schooners were again attacked. I will read to the House the only passage with which I will trouble it, the account of the seizure of the Black Diamond, Mr. Owen master. He says—On the 11th day of July, 1889, whilst I was on board and in command of the said schooner, and she being then on a sealing expedition, and being in latitude 56° 22' north, and longitude 170° 25' west, and at a distance of about 35 miles from land, the United States Revenue cutter Richard Rush overhauled the said schooner, and having hailed her by shouting a command which I could not distinctly hear, steamed across the bows of the said schooner, compelling her to come to. A boat was then lowered from the said cutter, and Lieutenant Tuttle and five other men from the United States vessel came aboard the said schooner. I asked the lieutenant what he wanted; and on his stating he wished to see the ship's papers, I took him down to my cabin and showed them to him. He then commanded me to hand the papers over to him; this I refused to do, and locked them up in my locker. At this time there were 131 seal skins aboard the schooner, 76 of which had been salted, and 55 of which were unsalted, and Lieutenant Tuttle ordered his men to bring up the skins and to take the salted ones on board the Richard Bush. The cutter's men accordingly transferred all of the salted skins from my schooner to the Richard Rush, and also took aboard the cutter two sacks of salt and a rifle belonging to the schooner. Lieutenant Tuttle then again demanded me to give up the ship's papers, and told me that if I would not give them up he would take them by force. As I still declined to part with them, he signalled to the cutter, and a boat came off with the master-at-arms, who came on board the schooner. Lieutenant Tuttle asked me for the keys of the looker, so that he might get the papers; and upon my refusing to give them to him, he ordered the master-at-arms to force open the locker. The master-at-arms then unscrewed the hinges of the locker, took out the ship's papers, and handed them to Lieutenant Tuttle. Lieutenant Tuttle then returned to the Richard Rushand came back to the schooner again, bringing on board with 1176 him one whose name I have since heard to be John Hawkinson, and who I believe to be a quartermaster of the Richard Rush. Lieutenant Tuttle then told me to take the schooner to Sitka. I told him that I would not go unless he put a crew on board to take the schooner there. He gave Hawkinson directions to take the ship to Sitka, and gave him letters to give to the United States Authorities on arrival. Lieutenant Tuttle, before leaving my schooner, ordered 20 Indian spears which were aboard for sealing purposes to be taken on to the Richard Rush. I asked the lieutenant to give me a receipt for the papers, skins, &c., he had taken; this he refused to do, and he then returned to the Richard Rush, taking the said spears with him, and leaving the man Hawkinson in charge of the schooner; shortly afterwards the cutter steamed away without returning the ship's papers, seal skins, and other goods before mentioned. After the departure of the United States vessel, I directed my course to Ounalaska, hoping there to meet with an English man-of-war. We arrived there on the 15th of July. My crew at this time consisted of a mate (Alexander Gault), two white seamen, deck hands, and a white cook and 20 Indians. The Indians, thinking we were going to Sitka, became mutinous, and told me the best thing I could do to avoid trouble was to take the schooner home; they also warned the other white men on board that if they thought I meant to take the schooner to Sitka they would throw us all overboard. There being no man-of-war at Ounalaska, I left there and directed my course to Victoria, and arrived at that port at about 7 p.m. on Saturday, the 3rd of August last, having on board the said John Hawkinson, who, during the cruise to Victoria, had not tried to give me any directions or made any suggestions as to the course to be taken by the schooner. On arrival at Victoria Hawkinson was put on shore by one of my baots.Here we have every rule of seizure at sea violated, the cargo taken out of the ship, no sufficient prize crew placed on board, nor any steps taken to obtain an adjudication in due form, and this was the manner in which the United States dealt with some 17 vessels sailing under the flag of a friendly Power. The case of the Black Diamond is typical of 17 or 20 other cases in 1886-7-9: Cutters have been sent to attack schooners, for what reason? "Because," says Mr. Secretary Blaine, speaking of this vast ocean—Into this secluded and peaceful field of labour whose benefits were so equitably shared? by the native Aleuts of the Ribyloff Islands, by the United States, and by England, certain Canadian vessels in 1886 asserted their right to-enter, and by their ruthless course to destroy the fisheries.I venture to say that the House, on 1177 reading the Despatches of Lord Salisbury, will find that the whole case has been put plainly and forcibly, and that it is unanswered and unanswerable. Mr. Blaine says that our action has been contra bonos mores; that is to say, that killing seals on the high seas is equivalent to piracy. I will not trouble the House with the Despatches, inasmuch as I only received the Blue Book at half past 2 o'clock this afternoon.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir J. FERGUSSON, Manchester, N. E.)
The hon. and learned Gentleman is under a mistake. The Papers were obtainable at the Vote Office this morning.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
I went to the Library this afternoon, and was informed that it had been presented there only in dummy. It is said that there is a great waste of seal life, and that the female seals are killed as well as the males. I thought it right to inquire into this charge myself, and I saw at Vancouver the masters and many of the sealers. I examined and cross-examined them; I went on board their ships, and went into the whole matter as fully as I could, and I came to the conclusion that in the way in which sealing is conducted there is no waste of life and no undue killing of the female seals. There is one important point to bear in mind. Sealskin, I own, is a very valuable article of commerce. There is, however, another side to the question; the seals live in a sea which washes a coast where, in the course of a few years, there will be as large a British population as you will find anywhere—I mean that of British Columbia. The Behring Sea is not merely valuable for its seals. It has probably the greatest fishery for cod and other useful fish. If the United States be once allowed to consider Behring Sea as a mare clausum, they will be able not only to protect the seals, to the destruction of the fish, but also to forbid the taking of the codfish, and the result will be that, while there will be in that territory a large British population, they will not be able to catch the fish which they will require for their own sustenance. In many matters in this part of the world England has not looked sufficiently far ahead. Let us look ahead in the present instance. It is com- 1178 puted that there are at present in the Behring Sea fully 6,000,000 seals. Every one of these seals, it is calculated, consumes 10 lbs. of fish a day, so that there, is a total consumption of 60,000,000 lbs. of fish per day; the loss of this must be taken into the account as against the value of the seals. There is another question to which I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend, and that is the seizure made by the Russian Government in 1888. An Alaskan Company's vessel started out in a fog, and when the fog lifted, found itself close to a schooner called the Araunah, which was lowering her boats out for sealing. The Russians contended that the Araunah was within three miles of the shore. They took possession of her, sold her boats, destroyed her, and turned her crew adrift. I was fortunate enough to come across the man who was at the wheel of the Araunah at the time of the seizure, and he proved to me that he was at least five miles distant from the coast. I would ask my right hon. Friend to let me lay these and other facts before him for future consideration, because if these facts are true the crew of the vessel seized have been very badly treated. With regard to close time, in a letter I wrote to the Times in November last I advocated on the part of the sealers that there should be a close time during nine months of the year—in other words, that there should be hunting only during July, August, and September. That is the one thing required; but Mr. Secretary Blaine rests his whole case on this: that Lord Salisbury consented in the earlier part of the discussion that there should be a close time from April to November. If the Prime Minister did say so it was entirely per incuriam , and without knowing the facts of the case and the habits of the seal. Lord Salisbury, however, refused finally to arrange this matter until "Canada is heard from;" and in taking that line Lord Salisbury acted most properly. I think Canada should be consulted; and what was most calculated to make the pulses of the Canadian people beat warmly and in accord with the Mother Country was Lord Salisbury's declaration that Canada must be consulted. Sir Julian Pauncefote, our most excellent Ambassador at Washington, has put forward a scheme which, at present, the United States will not listen to, but it is one 1179 which must eventually be accepted. He proposes a seal limit line, a close time during nine months of the year, the appointment of a Committee of experts to inquire into what is necessary for the sufficient protection of the seal, and that differences between the United States and the British or any other Government upon the Report of this Committee shall be left to the arbitrament of a friendly Power. We have no fear with regard to arbitration; we know that our case is absolutely a good one. In the hands of Sir Julian Pauncafote and the Foreign Office the matter, I am confident, will be well attended to. The only persons who have not shown themselves very strong in this matter have been those at the head of the Colonial Office. The Colonial Office ought to have prevented Lord Salisbury from making the important mistake, if mistake it were, in regard to the close time; but, with our experience of the present head of the Colonial Office, one does not expect great things.
§ (6.42.) SIR W. PLOWDEN (Wolver-hampton W.)
I wish to refer to the manner in which the affairs of our Indian Empire are administered. As the Rules of the House are at present arranged it is utterly impossible to obtain any satisfactory discussion of any great questions involving matters of interest in India, except those which are concerned with the Indian Accounts. An hon. Member did, at some earlier time in the Session, obtain by ballot a day for the discussion of a matter somewhat akin to that which I am now bringing forward; but his day was taken from him by the Government, and the consequence is that the question has never been brought forward. When the hon. Member to whom I refer (the Member for North Kensington, Sir Roper Lethbridge) complained on the subject, I understand the Government agreed to consider the matter. The position is simply this: By Standing Order 51, whenever an Order is read for the House to resolve itself into Committee, not being Committee of Supply or Ways and Means, you, Sir, are to leave the Chair without Question put. Therefore, on these occasions we are prevented altogether from bringing forward questions of the greatest interest to this country and to many Members of this House. I cannot fancy that any- 1180 thing could be more calculated to produce feeling on the part of our fellow subjects in India than the methods we employ in dealing with their affairs in this House. We do not allow them to take a large share in the administration of their own country, and we profess to be the guardians of their interests in this House; but we do not exercise any powers in regard to the guardianship of such interests. A notice which was put down in the early part of this year would have had the effect of amending the Standing Order so as to give those desirous of discussing Indian affairs at any length, or on any appropriate occasion, power to do so. I want to state to the Government that, in the coming Session, it will be my business to endeavour to get that notice placed again on the Paper, and also to secure a day for its discussion. The notice was to the effect that Standing Order No. 51 be amended by inserting after the words "Ways and Means," the words, "the Committee on the Indian Financial Statement." I believe there are many Members who will support me if I am able to take that step. I believe the Government themselves are desirous that the present state of things should no longer continue, and I do appeal to the House to assist in providing some means of relieving the House from what is a grave and serious scandal. If this be done. I am certain the occasions will be few when advantage will be taken of such a modification of the Order, and that discussions will only be raised on matters of deep and serious interest to the Government themselves.
§ (6.45.) SIR R. N. FOWLER (London)
I quite agree with all the hon. Member has said, and I hope the Government will favourably consider his contention. I wish to draw attention to a question in regard to which, in conjunction with my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcudbright (Mr. M. Stewart), I had the honour to introduce a deputation to Lord Cross, namely, the sale of opium in India. Formerly the East India Company and the Indian Government did all that lay in their power to restrain the selling of opium amongst their own subjects, the people of India. I am afraid the Government of India is not so careful as it used to be, and I trust attention will be given to the subject.
§ *(6.47.) MR. G. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
I have to complain of the way in which the Government have dealt with several matters that have been put before the House. Especially do I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to have persevered with the Savings Banks Bill. It was withdrawn at a late period of the Session because, forsooth, the Government declared they had not an opportunity of giving it adequate discussion. And yet after that the Government consented to bring in a Bill which occupied this House during the whole of last night. I think the conduct of the Government amounts to a breach of faith. They were not justified in throwing overboard, at the last moment, so important a measure, affecting, as it does, 1,500,000 depositors, having £46,000,000 in the savings banks of the country. From the Savings Banks Association I learn that the representatives of the savings banks of the country, having deposits to the amount of £40,000,000 out of £46,000,000, approved the general principle of the Bill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Under these circumstances, I think we have the right to feel aggrieved that the Government have thrown overboard so important a measure. It is not as if there were not sufficient evidence. Evidence has accumulated in this House since 1886, and we have before us this notorious fact, that the depositors of the Cardiff Savings Bank, having £40,000 of their money unpaid to them, are still waiting for a settlement of their claims. Early next Session I shall certainly bring the matter before the House again, and endeavour to insure that the depositors in savings banks shall have their deposits secured to them by Act of Parliament. I have also another complaint to make against the Treasury. For 26 years the Trade Unions of this country have enjoyed the privilege of depositing their funds in the Post Office Savings Bank or Trustee Savings Banks without limit as to amount. They have exercised this privilege without any detriment whatever to the public, without any inconvenience to the Treasury, and without any inconvenience to the Post Office. Now, this privilege has been suddenly withdrawn, and it is not known upon what ground. The 1182 Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is true, says it is a dangerous thing to have large sums belonging to Trade Societies in the savings banks, for they might be withdrawn suddenly in times of emergency, and the right hon. Gentleman also doubts whether these societies come within the definition of Friendly and Provident Societies. I have made inquiries, and find that six societies alone, in the period during which 'the privilege to which I refer has been enjoyed, have paid to their members for benefit purposes £5,758,414. These six societies in the same period have only paid £278,132 in respect of strikes. This hardly bears out the right hon. Gentleman's view that the money is likely to be withdrawn suddenly for strike purposes. The Government are not only boycotting these great benevolent institutions, they are actually backing up the attempt which has been made to take from these societies their benevolent objects, and to make them exist for strike purposes alone. I had a letter this morning from the Secretary to one of these societies, and I find that the amount of money his society has spent on disputes and strikes of all kinds has been some £70,255, whereas it, has spent something like £730,580 for benevolent objects. The most singular thing is that, only a year ago, at my instance, the Government, as a concession to these societies, agreed to transmit money from, one branch to another, or from the executive to a branch, without going through the ordinary form of making two trustees and the secretary go to the Post Office to pay in the money, and causing two trustees and the secretary to attend at the Post Office at the other end for the purpose of drawing it out again. I speak in the name of 16 societies, having branches all over the-country, which have now been boycotted, and also in the name of the London Trades Council, and I say that the question shall not continue to depend on the decision of the National Debt Commissioners. We shall insist in this House upon the passing of a measure which shall give to these societies the same privilege as is accorded to other benevolent societies. The ban of the law has been removed, and now these institutions are perfectly lawful. Why, the Government should endeavour to 1183 boycott the funds of these unions I am at a loss to understand. I hope that, during the recess, the Treasury will consider the whole question, and in the ensuing Session bring in a measure to give to these societies the rights and privileges that other Provident Societies enjoy, and have enjoyed, for a considerable number of years.
(7.1.) MR. CHANGING (Northampton, E.)
The point to which I wish to address myself relates to the work of the Foreign Office; but before I touch upon it I should like, as the hon. Member representing the Post Office in the absence of the Postmaster General is present, to support the appeal made by the hon. Member for Haggerston in favour of the consideration of the case of the postmen who, through accepting bad advice, have been guilty of insubordination. I trust the Department will look favourably upon the case of these men, who have, I believe, in almost every instance, acted admirably in other matters. We owe a great debt to the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Jennings) for having brought up the question of Supply. I wish to offer Her Majesty's Government one suggestion, which I hope they may adopt. The hon. Member made an exceedingly conciliatory and dignified defence of the course of the Government with regard to Supply, but he did not touch the kernel of the matter, and that is the arrangement of the time given to Supply. The suggestion I wish to offer is, that Supply should not only be taken consecutively, but after adequate notice. It is important that the discussion of the Estimates should be systematised, and the Government will have the warm support of many Members like myself in a free application of the Closure in Supply, if they only give adequate notice with regard to Supply beforehand, and if they insist that only those subjects shall be discussed of which adequate notice has been given. We have heard a great deal of obstruction being practised by hon. Members on this side of the House, and I think the Secretary to the Treasury was a little unjust to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) in quoting a speech of his in Devonshire. I believe the quotation the right hon. Gentleman made from that speech had reference especially to the 1184 Local Taxation Bill. Let me draw attention to the time actually given to Supply by English and Welsh Members from the beginning of the Session to the end of July. I have not been able to carry my investigations further, but I think the figures which I have obtained up to that time justify me in saying that hon. Members on this side have not taken up an undue proportion of the time of the House. I find that, in the various discussions, leaving out of the calculation the Irish Estimates and the Education and Police Votes, which were specially arranged for, English and Welsh Liberal Members have delivered 175 speeches, occupying a little over 15 hours. The speeches delivered by Ministers and their supporters numbered 241, and occupied 23 hours and 48 minutes. But I chiefly rose because of the reply I received from the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to a question I put to him as to representations made by the Ecclesiastical Assembly of the Armenians to the Patriarch at Constantinople, requesting him to lay before the Sublime Porte the grievances of the Armenians in respect to their religious privileges and rights, particularly in the matter of marriage and inheritance, and the collection of money and its application to the building of schools and churches. I drew attention to the fact that the Memorial of the Armenians had been communicated to Lord Salisbury in the month of February or March last, and that, in the acknowledgment from the Foreign Office, the intimation was made that the Memorial was sent to Sir William White with the object of obtaining his opinion upon it. The reply of the right hon. Gentleman was to the effect that Her Majesty's Ambassador, to whom a copy of the Memorial was sent, had advised that no advantage would be gained by his supporting the demands of the memorialists, and that Her Majesty's Government, therefore, did not propose to take any steps in the matter. I wish to enter my protest against the action of Sir William White and Her Majesty's Ministers in this matter. The Memorial states, in the most moderate way, certain grievances of the Armenian people. It draws attention to the fact that successive Sultans have guaranteed in the most solemn way the maintenance of the special privileges of the Armenian 1185 clergy, especially in regard to the management of their Church affairs. Treaties, and the relations which have been maintained with regard to this matter by the Government of the Porte, constitute a moral obligation, if not a constitutional International obligation, on the part of the Administration of this country, to exercise supervision as to the protection and maintenance of these privileges for the Armenians. If the answer of the right hon. Gentleman really represents their policy in regard to the Armenians, the Government are evidently shutting their eyes to the facts. If they shut their eyes to the withdrawal of these privileges and the stamping out of Christianity, if they are going to turn a deaf ear to the prayer of such a reasonable Memorial as that laid before the Porte, at the instance of the clergy of the Armenians, they are assuming a very dangerous responsibility. Their policy will be challenged by those of strong religious feeling, who will not tolerate in any Government the betrayal of the best and mildest forms of religion in the struggle against tyranny and oppression, especially when there are Treaty obligations on the part of this country to give such protection as we can to these poor and miserable people.
§ *(7.20.) SIR J. FERGUSSON
I am sorry if my reply the other day to the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire as to the Memorial presented to the Porte led him to think that Her Majesty's Ambassador does not concern himself in the welfare of the Christian population, and specially of the Armenians, when opportunity offers for useful representation. In the last Despatch in the Blue Book presented on this subject there is one from Lord Salisbury instructing Sir W. White to use his influence whenever he sees opportunity to do so. There are matters referred to in the Memorial with regard to which I have shown Her Majesty's Ambassador has exerted himself not altogether without success; but I must remind the House that we are not alone in this matter. We are only one of the Powers which are parties to the Treaty of Berlin, and if in season and out of season we are perpetually interfering in the internal affairs of the country it will diminish, instead of increase, the influence we now possess. I gratefully acknowledge the tone and 1186 temper of the hon. and learned Member for Staffordshire (Mr. S. Hill), who possesses special knowledge on the subject of the Behring Sea Fisheries, and who has visited the locality in question. I am glad to think that with his knowledge of the subject the hon. and learned Member considers that the representations made by the Prime Minister to the Government of the United States have been adequate, and such as those injured have a right to expect. I hope the Despatch of Lord Salisbury to Mr. Blaine will be studied elsewhere than in this House, seeing that the time of the Session precludes its consideration here. The Papers show that Her Majesty's Government have not been slow to meet the United States on fair and conciliatory terms. As long ago as April, 1888, Lord Salisbury was willing to refer the matters in question td arbitration. With regard to the close time then proposed, from the 15th of April to the 1st of November, it was distinctly stated that it was open to discussion, and further investigation has shown that it would not be the most convenient time. At the same time, Her Majesty's Government have protested against any more captures of British vessels on the high seas on the pretence that they are on a mare clausumwhere the United States have exclusive jurisdiction. They have also recognised the necessity which exists for the protection of this species, which is particularly liable to extinction by unlimited and reckless fishing. The Canadian Government, who object to being altogether shut out, recognise that some restrictions ought to be imposed to prevent the extermination of the species. I hope that nothing will occur to cause anything like a collision between the two nations. Caution has been used to avoid such a collision, but it will be impossible to tolerate that more of our vessels should be seized in a manner which we cannot for a moment permit.
§ (7.25.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
There is one matter to which. I desire to call the attention of the President of the Local Government Board. My hon. Friend the Member for Haggerston has criticised the Housing of the Working Classes Acts that have been passed this year. I do not intend to enter into the merits or demerits of the question, because I was one of those who wel- 1187 comed the Consolidation Act as a great step in advance. What I am particularly anxious to know is, whether the Government will be prepared next Session to bring in a Bill dealing with the question of the clearance of large areas by private individuals? At present, no Bill can pass which gives a Railway Company or a Corporation power to make clearance unless they provide dwellings for the people whom they are about to displace. But a private individual can displace any number of people without providing other dwellings for them, and I and others are anxious to know whether it is the intention of the Government to effect a change of the law in this respect? There are other matters upon which, if it were earlier, I should like to have spoken, but the importance of these I have mentioned justifies me in making at the end of the Debate these few remarks. I endorse the whole of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) as to the action of the Treasury in regard to Trades Union banking accounts, and unless some alteration is made in this regulation much more will be heard of the matter next Session.
§ *(7.31.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
I am sorry to detain the House, and I will not do so at any length. There is a question I should like to put to the Under Secretary of State for India, a question we could not put last night, because we were restricted to the financial side of Indian questions. Why, I ask, do the Government refuse to allow the people of India to have some elected Representatives upon the Indian Councils? It is an important question we have not had the opportunity of discussing during this Session. I was amazed to hear the remarks by Lord Salisbury in relation to Canadian opinion, and it struck me as strange that he did not see the advantage of applying the principle he supported to the Irish people. If we had treated the Irish people as we treat the Canadian people, we should have no more trouble with Ireland than we have with Canada. With regard to Supply, which is almost the only matter that I, as a new Member, have hitherto concerned myself and troubled the House about, it appears to me that to the most important function of the 1188 House of Commons (the control of the National expenditure) we have this Session devoted very little attention. I am glad to hear that next year we are to have the support of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Jennings) on this subject, and I hope we shall have his vote on our side as well as his speech. I noticed that on one occasion this Session the hon. Member made a long and useful speech on a Motion for a reduction of expenditure, of which he had given notice, but he did not actually move the reduction, so that we had no opportunity of backing him, nor did he take the opportunity of backing his speech by his vote. It is of little use making a speech on matters of this kind unless you take a Division. The Government laugh at this, but they do not like a Division which shows to the country the opinions of Members. I shall heartily join with the hon. Gentleman next Session in criticising Votes on Account. It is the only way to teach this, or any other, Government, that the nation's money must be expended economically as well as efficiently. Except on rare occasions there is no Party question involved in this, and we can all join in preventing extravagant Departmental expenditure, and if we change places in the House next year, as I hope we may, I shall still be glad to co-operate with the hon. Gentleman to this end. I am afraid, however, that we shall never get these matters properly considered until we have a system by which we can relegate local business to Local Legislatures of each nationality. We have been told to-day by the Secretary to the Treasury that he desires a free discussion of the Estimates, and now that the franchise is extended and people are better educated, they will insist upon more attention being given to these matters upon which they are so deeply concerned. In future, more time must be given to Supply, and this time can only be found by a devolution of local affairs, leaving this House free to deal with Imperial matters. Charges of obstruction have been freely made against us, but I do not believe there has been any such thing as obstruction. I have no doubt that those who have made those charges will, after the next General Election, regret that they have made these complaints. That which is fair criticism, looked at from the other side 1189 may seem to be obstruction, but I deny that the charge of obstruction can be supported this Session. Our opposition has been asked by the country, and it has been successful, for the Government have had to withdraw their Bills. The waste of time during this Session is due to the action of the Government and not of the Opposition.
§ *(7.38.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE, Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
In reply to the hon. Member for Finsbury, I acknowledge that the question of the housing of the working classes is of great and growing importance. He complains that there is a grievance in the fact that private individuals are not, by legislation, compelled to find accommodation for those people they displace when they clear their land.
§ MR. RITCHIE
The tendency of modern legislation is whenever a public body or company comes to Parliament to take power to clear away dwellings, that the promoters shall provide accommodation for the people they displace, but the position is very different when private individuals deal with their own property. Legislation then does not control private action, though public opinion would not regard with anything like favour the peremptory action of a proprietor who might act without the slightest regard to his tenants. It is a matter of very great importance, but it would be a novel feature in legislation to deal with it in the manner desired by the hon. Member. There are difficulties in the way, but the subject shall have the attention its importance deserves. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Haggerston (Mr. Cremer), on the Housing of the Working Classes Bill, I may say that during the recess I will have Circulars issued so that Local Authorities may be made thoroughly acquainted with the new duties and powers that devolve upon them, and so that the objects of the measure may be carried out.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for tomorrow.