§ (3.58.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I beg to move the Resolution which stands in my name, in regard to the Business of the House. I do not think it is necessary for me to do more than to remind the House that the arrangement I now propose was in force for some weeks before Easter, and was approved, I think, by all sections in the House. It enables private Members to discuss—not at great length, but adequately—subjects in which they are interested on the evenings of Tuesdays and Fridays, and it allows the Government to get on with Government Business at the Morning Sittings on those days. Under these circumstances, and until occasion arises, which in the ordinary course it does at a later period of the Session, for the Government to ask for still greater privileges for the transaction of business, I think we may be content to ask for a 1659 continuance of the arrangement which proved so successful for a few weeks before Easter. I hope the House will be disposed to accept without opposition the Motion I now make.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet at Two of the clock on Tuesday and Friday; and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the Morning Sitting on those days."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ (4.0.) MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
I cannot help thinking that many hon. Members have felt some surprise at hearing the information which the First Lord of the Treasury has offered with regard to the Motion which he has now placed before the House. I do not wish myself to delay the Business of the House by making any lengthened observations; I merely wish to make a short protest on behalf of myself and on behalf of those agricultural Members who take, as I do, and whose constituents take, a very deep interest in the Small Holdings Bill, against the way in which I venture to think the Government have treated the House with regard to that very important matter. As the House will recollect, when the Bill was introduced into the House, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury laid very great weight upon the Bill, and he, or the President of the Board of Agriculture, announced that the Government would stand or fall by that Bill. The Bill was received with sufficient favour by hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. They found, of course, something to criticise in it; for instance, that it did not include the very important principle of compulsion and various other questions which, the Representatives of agricultural constituencies think of the highest importance with regard to a measure of this sort. But, on the whole, I think I may say that we who represent agricultural constituencies in the country are extremely anxious to see this Bill passed, and passed speedily. When a question on this subject was put to the First Lord of the Treasury—I rather fancy it was by myself—he said that when the Bill got into Committee he intended to proceed with it de die in diem, and when it did get into Committee we proceeded some way with the Bill. The 1660 House then rose for the Easter Recess, and when we sat again last Monday we did not expect the Government would proceed with it on the first day that Parliament met, but still we expected that at some period very near to the time at which the House again met we should proceed with this very important measure. We certainly had not for a single moment expected that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would get up after the somewhat prolonged Recess we have had at Easter and practically defer the consideration of this most important Bill which the Government are anxious to see passed, and which hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House are also most anxious to see passed—we did not for a single moment expect the First Lord of the Treasury would defer the consideration of this most important Bill for a fortnight after the re-assembling of Parliament.
§ (4.5.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
I desire to appeal to my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury to make an exception in favour of the Motion which stands in the name of the hon. Member for South Armagh (Mr. Blane), and which deals with a question which an hon. Member sitting on the other side of the House this afternoon told the House was to be the burning question at the General Election; and hon. Members on both sides of the House know that, sooner or later, a General Election will come. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to except Friday, the 6th of May, from his Motion; and I appeal to him on this ground, and I think hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House will see that it is a very sound ground. If my right hon. Friend carries his Motion without making an exception of the 6th of May, what will happen will be this: The Motion of the hon. Member for South Armagh will come on for discussion at nine o'clock, and, according to the Rules of the House, the discussion will close in three hours. The hon. Member for South Armagh would probably open the discussion, and lay his views before the House; he would be followed probably by the various leaders of the sections of the hon. Members for Ireland. Then undoubtedly there are no less than two or three right 1661 hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench who would be most anxious to take the opportunity to express their views on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby told us in his speech the other day in the New Forest that he had not been aware of the terms of the Motion, bu1 that he would be prepared on some other occasion to discuss it, and I am sure we would be delighted to hear him. But what would be the result of this? The intervention of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench during the three hours undoubtedly would leave very little time for the other hon. Members from Ireland who sit on this side of the House, and other independent Members who have no chance of catching your eye on those occasions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but who are very anxious indeed to contribute their views on this important Motion. Therefore, I think, having regard to the great interests at stake, the fact that right hon. Gentlemen opposite and hon. Members below the Gangway tell us that this is to be the burning question at the General Election, and the fact that the discussion will have the effect of clearing away a good deal of misconception, both above and below the Gangway, as to what is the particular position occupied by the Party opposite on this question, I feel that my right hon. Friend will be doing a very just and reasonable thing if he excepts from his Motion Friday, the 6th of May.
§ (4.9.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I do not rise for the purpose of offering any opposition to the Motion made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. My right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) desires me to state on his behalf that, with the view of forwarding business, he desires to offer no opposition to that Motion. In reference to the appeal made by the hon. Member who has just sat down, I think, as the hon. Member takes such an interest in the Motion that is intended to be moved by the hon. Member for South Armagh, that if he were to undertake to second it, it would probably commend itself to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. He seems to be afraid that there will not be sufficient time for the discussion of 1662 that Motion, or time to express his own opinion upon the subject, and that hon. Gentlemen on these Benches are likely to fully occupy all the time of the House. I should be extremely glad to offer him the time I might have occupied, and the hon. Member may rest assured that I have not the smallest desire to interfere with him in fully discussing the subject. It is most interesting to see the great interest which Ulster takes with the other parts of Ireland in this particular Motion. Its support of the Motion must give great hopes of that harmony in Ireland which we are all desirous to see existing. With reference to the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman has made, I think it proper that we should ask some explanation of the use that is going to be made of the time of private Members that he has proposed to take. Now my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden has, I think, expressed some natural surprise at the manner in which, day after day, the Small Holdings Bill is shoved off—measures of the smallest and the very simplest importance seem to be seized upon for the purpose of postponing the consideration of that question. Now I have a very distinct recollection that when this Bill was first introduced and put first, the Government declared that they meant to proceed with it de die in diem. I cannot understand why that declaration has been departed from. I have had sufficient means of ascertaining the views and intentions of Gentlemen who sit on this side; and I am quite sure that there is no disposition to prolong the discussion upon that Bill. I believe I am expressing their sentiments when I say that they consider that the main points have been already discussed upon the Amendments that have been moved. There are probably one or two other points which will have to be raised upon the Bill; but I think that I may confidently say that if the Government wish on Monday next to resume the consideration of this Bill, and if they get the time which the right hon. Gentleman asks for in his Motion, there is no doubt whatever that the Small Holdings Bill might be passed through Committee in the course of next week; and that being so, surely that is the most convenient arrangement of business, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider 1663 whether it is not the course he should take. With regard to the discussion on the Budget, there are some important matters that may be raised upon it, but they are not matters at all urgent. The question of whether the consideration of the Budget should be taken on Thursday next, or whether it should be taken in the ensuing week, seems to me not to be a material question. It seems to me that there could not be a more appropriate method of dealing with the time placed at the disposal of the Government; and if I might reciprocate the interest in the Irish question which has been already expressed by the hon. Member who has just sat down, I, too, have a considerable interest in the discussion upon the plan of the Government for Local Government in Ireland. Now it must be quite plainly seen by the Government that one of the results of this perpetual postponement of the Small Holdings Bill is to protract, prolong, and put off the period of the discussion of that measure. I venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should proceed at once, as he can without difficulty or any serious opposition, to conclude the discussion of the Small Holdings Bill.
§ (4.16.) MR. ARTHUR ELLIOT (Roxburgh)
I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to another question which is likely to be affected by his Motion. I refer to the Resolution to be brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow for the Disestablishment of the Church in Scotland. I should like to ask, as the Resolution stands far down on the Paper, whether on that day the Evening Sitting would extend from nine o'clock to one o'clock?
§ MR. ARTHUR ELLIOT
Then I shall reserve the remarks I intended to make. However, I think that a matter of extreme importance such as this should be brought forward at a time when a reasonable discussion could take place upon it. But I do not think there is much good in grumbling about the matter. I do not see how the difficulty can be met; but I should like, if possible, on the occasion to which I refer that the nine o'clock Sitting should go on till one o'clock. ("No, no!") Well, then, I do not know whether it would not be better 1664 to vote on the question without any discussion than to take it up and dispose of it without having properly discussed it. I think it very unfortunate that this very important discussion should come on at a time when it cannot be done justice to on one side of the House or the other.
§ *(4.18.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not accede to the suggestion of the hon. Member who has just sat down. Twelve o'clock is quite late enough for the Members of this House who have to work for their living during the day, and who are consequently not able to sit here to a late hour at night. But I rise to ask the light hon. Gentleman if he will be good enough to state—for the information of several Members of the House who have balloted several times during the Session and not had an opportunity of bringing forward their Motions in consequence of the attitude taken up by the Government—I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would be good enough to state how long he proposes to continue the rule which he now asks the House to sanction—whether he proposes that the rule shall only extend to Whitsuntide, or beyond it? Of course, I know every Member regards his own Motion as the most important which the House of Commons could undertake to consider. I may, therefore, be pardoned for expressing the opinion that the Motion which I have down for next Tuesday is one of the most important that the House of Commons could be called upon to discuss. It has been down twice during the Session. A number of other Members are placed in the same position as myself; and it might save us the trouble of coming down on Tuesday and Friday to ballot for places, if the right hon. Gentleman would give a clear answer to the question which I have put to him. My Motion has reference to a Treaty of Arbitration between Great Britain and the United States of America. Since Mr. Plimsoll's Motion with regard to the shipping question, I doubt if any Resolution has ever elicited such an extraordinary expression of opinion concerning the question as my Motion. Fifty-seven Trades Councils out of the 62 in the United Kingdom, and 1665 nearly every organised body of workers in the country, have expressed their opinion in favour of it, to say nothing of the great religious bodies. Therefore I think I am entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether I am likely to have an opportunity of calling attention to the subject this Session, or whether it must be deferred till the new Parliament.
§ (4.20.) MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
I think it would be much better for the Government to take one whole night, and to leave the whole of the other night to private Members than to revive Morning Sittings. The right hon. Gentleman has said that Morning Sittings have worked very satisfactorily until Easter. I think, on the contrary, hon. Members will see that the result of Morning Sittings has been that practically the Government made no progress at all with business in these Morning Sittings, and destroyed all the benefit which private Members would have been able to obtain from a proper discussion of their Motions. I do not know that there is any use in protesting against these Morning Sittings, but I should like to enter my protest against what I think is an unprecedented thing—namely, taking Morning Sittings after Whitsuntide. It has always been the custom of the Government after Whitsuntide to take one whole night to deal with the remaining business of the Session, and leave the other night for private Members. If that course were adopted on this occasion we should have ample opportunity of having this Home Rule question discussed, and there would be plenty of time left for the hon. Member for Glasgow to make as long a speech as he liked in reference to Scotch Disestablishment, and plenty of time for hon. Members to take part in that Debate. I know it is no use appealing to the right hon. Gentleman upon this question; but I think it my duty to protest against this perpetual system of the introduction of Morning Sittings. I believe they are destructive of the despatch of Government business, and certainly they are destructive of all the use and efficiency of private Members' business.
§ (4.26.) MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden has said with respect to the 1666 Small Holdings Bill, and I think there are some other measures of the Government with respect to which great interest is felt out-of-doors. I am bound to say, however, that I do not consider the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, having regard to the state of business, as at all unreasonable. I doubt very much if in recent years you could find that the House has been sitting for fifty days out of a normal Session of one hundred and twenty and the Government business in a state of such lamentable arrear as it is. Since the beginning of the Session on the 9th February, the House has got into Committee and made some progress with regard to two measures only—the Indian Councils Bill and the Small Holdings Bill—and we are just entering Committee with regard to the Clergy Discipline Bill. That is to say, there are three measures out of ten that have passed the Second Reading, and that we have made any progress with; and there are but four other measures which have only been read a first time. There is the Irish Education Bill, the Private Procedure Bill—which I believe after the Recess we shall not hear much more of—and above all there is the Irish Local Government Bill. I venture to say unhesitatingly that the state of Irish business is a scandal and a reproach to Her Majesty's Government. In January, 1886, the Government of Lord Salisbury came before the House with the Irish Local Government Bill as a primary measure in Her Majesty's Speech of that Session. The Leader of the House after the General Election of that year, the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, speaking from that Bench, over and over again promised that that measure would be dealt with. But what do we find? In reply to a question by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, it was said this matter should be proceeded with immediately after the Small Holdings Bill had been through Committee. There is no reason in my mind why, after Easter, we should not have proceeded with that Bill. Then there are four measures that have not been heard of at all: that is, the District Councils Bill, which has been referred to in the south-west of England by a most distinguished supporter of Her Majesty's Government during the Recess; and the 1667 Bill for the Relief of Public Elementary Schools from rates, an important matter in which great interest is taken. Then there is a most important commercial measure, the Bill relating to the agreement between the Government and the Bank of England; and, above all, there is the Employers' Liability Bill, a Bill upon which a great deal of time was spent in Grand Committee in 1888, a Bill which affects hundreds of thousands of persons outside this House, and in which they are very keenly interested, and which of course should be dealt with by Her Majesty's Government, if they have really any bona fides on the subject. If the Government had had the slightest desire to put an end to the crying evils that exist in regard to this matter they could have done so. I will not go so fully into the question as to say whose fault it is that we find ourselves in this lamentable condition with regard to the Business of this House. People are constantly accusing the Leader of the House with being young at his work, and with rushing into discussions when he might well keep silence; but, in my opinion, the right hon. Gentleman's misfortune has been that he has had supporters behind him who would not support him. I think there is much accuracy in the criticism of the First Lord of the Treasury himself with reference to the Parliament with which he has to deal. He used very strong language in the Debate upon the Septennial Act. He applied the word "senile" to the House. Now, if he considers that the House of Commons has fallen into a condition of senility, the Government have a very easy remedy. Let them send us to our constituents, take the sense of the country, and introduce the new vigour which is so much needed into the action of Parliament. I do not consider the request of the right hon. Gentleman is an unreasonable one under all the circumstances of the case, but its justification depends entirely upon the manner in which the Government intend to use the time which they are endeavouring to obtain. If they will only act with a little more method and vigour they will enable us to proceed with business in a reasonable way; but if they show lassitude and procrastination, and the same old habit of postponing measures, then we shall only be doing what we have hitherto 1668 done, and that is wasting the time of the House.
§ (4.33.) MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (&c.) Stirling,
My hon. Friend who has just sat down has asked the House to use a certain amount of method in conducting the Business of the House. I wish to add my appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, for some information with reference to the measures which are to be dealt with. He proposes to take on Monday the measure dealing with the Scotch Equivalent Grant. That is to be interpreted as if it were to be in the middle of the Committee stage of the Small Holdings Bill. I could understand it, if the Equivalent Grant measure could be got through in a very short time, but I am sure that it will give rise to a most interesting discussion, which will occupy probably more than one night. If there is to be a gap made in the proceedings with regard to the Small Holdings Bill, I certainly can hold out no hope that it will be a small one. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Equivalent Grant question is connected with the scheme for secondary education for Scotland—a scheme which proposes to make certain changes in the Scotch Education Department. Now the report of that Department was only issued last week, and we have not heard a word from our constituents as to their views with regard to it. I would therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman both on that ground, and because of the merits of the Bill, not to take the Scotch Equivalent Grant Bill in the middle of the Committee Stage of the Small Holdings Bill.
§ *(4.36.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
I am not troubled by what may happen next Friday, but the more you discuss Home Rule the better I shall be pleased. It is interesting to notice that Parnellite Members—or those who are called Parnellite Members—now sit on both sides of the House. I have personally no objection to the Resolution proposed by the right hon. Gentleman to-day, so long as we understand that we are to take up the practical business of the country. I have, indeed, some reason to be in favour of that Resolution, because it does not appear to me, from what occurred on Tuesday last (when we had a "count out"), that private Members take much trouble to attend 1669 here when they have an opportunity of looking after Private Business. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman why he has said nothing about Supply? Apparently it is going to be left over until the end of the Session, and then taken in the middle of the night. When does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take Supply again? When does he propose to go on with the consideration of the Ordnance Vote? We were prevented from discussing matters with reference to the War Office on the first Vote, but we did anticipate that we should be allowed to go on with the discussion on the Ordnance Vote. For some extraordinary reason, however, the Government seemed to be afraid to face that discussion. I do not know whether it is because Birmingham is mixed up with Enfield in regard to it. It is only fair that we should be given an early opportunity of finishing that discussion. I wish now again to raise the question of the appointment of the Committee to consider the subject of the Parliamentary Debates. I brought the matter forward last Session, and again this Session, as a matter of urgency on the Vote on Account, and I asked for the appointment of a Committee. If it is delayed until the end of the Session the matter will be kept over till next year. The Committee should meet early if their Report is to be considered this Session. With apparently the general consent of the House, the Government promised we should have such a Committee. If no other alteration can be made, I think it would be advisable to do away with our present arrangement, and so save the £2,000 or £3,000 we are now paying for what is called the German or Reuter's Parliamentary Reports by taking in the weekly issue of the Times Parliamentary Reports, until we have some better system to suit the requirements of the House. I hope the Leader of the House will be good enough to say to-day that he intends to appoint the Committee at once. I know that he said on the last occasion that he is waiting to consult the House of Lords. The last Committee of the kind was a Joint Committee of both Houses. We can, if we choose, determine the contract at the end of the present Session, and I would therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to appoint the Committee at 1670 once, so that we may have their Report in a reasonable time.
§ (4.41.) MR. JAMES ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
If there is a desire to obtain more time for the disposal of Private Business, there is a very easy way of doing it. Let us meet at eight o'clock instead of nine, and not waste the two hours in the dinner interval. It is not sufficient time for those who go away, while for those who remain in the precincts of the House it is entirely wasted. I regret that we are again asked to give up our privileges with regard to Private Members' sittings. There is one question upon which we desire to take the opinion of the House, and that is with regard to International Arbitration. If it came on there would be no chance of a count out on that particular evening. I would now like to call the attention of the House to the fact that the decision of Justice Denman, has entirely altered the interpretation which has been put upon the Metropolis Local Management Act. The President of the Local Government Board has stated that there is at the present time great difficulty in getting vestrymen to attend to their duties, because they do not know whether they would be subjected to an action, through the agency of a private informer, under that decision. I am informed that the crisis is so serious that the Vestry of St. Pancras are going to take a test case to the Courts, in order to ascertain the real position of vestrymen under the Metropolis Local Management Act. I understand that nothing can be done to meet the difficulty under the Bill dealing with District Councils, which we were led to believe was to be introduced on an early day this Session. The question is such a vital one that when the vestry elections take place in May, it is doubtful whether you will be able to get the necessary number of vestrymen. The right hon. Gentleman opposite is laughing.—
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
I was not laughing. I rise to a point of order. I wish to ask whether the hon. Member is in order in going into details on the Bill in question?
§ MR. JAMES ROWLANDS
I do not desire to enter into the details of it, but this is a very important matter, as will be proved when the Vestry elections come on in May. I will only further say, that I hope the First Lord of the Treasury will give some answer to the question put to him by the hon. Member for Peterborough.
§ *(4.47.) MR. JUSTIN MCCARTHY (Londonderry)
It seems clear to me that nothing in the way of serious or substantial work is going to be done in this moribund and hopeless Session of Parliament. I do not suppose that either the Members of the Government, or private Members, will be able to carry anything which is worth having during the remainder of this Session. Therefore how the time of the House is to be frittered and wasted away is a matter of comparatively little importance. The Government seem to me to have made up their minds to pass, if they can, a certain number of small Bills which they think are still within their power to pass, and which they probably consider that in common decency they ought to pass. They appear to be in the position of a man who knows he must plunge into bankruptcy very soon, with very heavy responsibilities upon him, and who wishes, before the crash comes, to pay off the household bills—to settle with the butcher and the tailor, and the housemaid and the cook. If that be the position of the Government, I wish they would be a little more candid, and take the House into their confidence and tell us frankly what they intend to do. If they say, "We know we are going into bankruptcy, we cannot meet our heavy engagements, but we wish to get rid of some small responsibilities before the crash come," I am sure the House will endeavour to assist them out of their difficulty. Let them tell us plainly whether they have done with the serious work of this Parliament, and give us an idea of the date on which they are going into political bankruptcy, and then I am sure we shall be inclined to give them all the help in our power to settle the more trivial affairs.
§ (4.50.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
I think it will be admitted by the Members of Her Majesty's Government themselves that the position with respect to the conduct 1672 of business is a very peculiar position. The setting aside of primary subjects for the sake of taking up a series of secondary subjects in the middle of a Parliamentary Session, whether in an old or young Parliament, is a proceeding perhaps without precedent—at any rate very unusual; and this unusual character of proceeding undoubtedly casts an air of mystery over the question: What are the motives and intentions of the Government? I doubt very much whether it is for the interest of the Government to take proceedings which cause that idea of mystery to prevail. The subjects which I imagine a very large portion of the House look to as the most important appear to me—I will not say studiously, but at any rate to a very great extent and in a remarkable manner—to have been kept back. So far as this side of the House is concerned—and I do not know that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House are likely to differ—there are three matters with regard to which we desire to know the intentions of the Government, and to which we think every available hour of our time ought to be applied. The first question is that of Supply, which, with regard even to the great subjects of Army and Navy, is unusually backward. With regard to the Miscellaneous Estimates, Government is usually anxious to avail itself of any advantage it can reap from a careful husbanding of what may be called odds and ends of time; and unquestionably it has been the fixed use of Governments, so far as my knowledge goes, when the House meets on Friday at the usual hour, to take advantage of the possibility, which has not infrequently become a reality, that the Motions of private Members may be disposed of, and disappear at an early period, and consequently what is called effective Supply has been put on the Paper. But we met to-day at three o'clock as usual, and Supply did not appear on the Paper, so that if the Motions of private Members had by accident disappeared, the remainder of the evening would have been wasted. There is a universal desire on the part of the House to get forward with the Small Holdings Bill. We do not regard that Bill as a satisfactory measure, but we have had an opportunity of giving our views and of stating those essential particulars in which we think it is want- 1673 ing; and recognising it as a good measure up to the point to which it goes, and having failed to introduce into it a full expression of what we think necessary, we, notwithstanding, perform an elementary duty in assisting the right hon. Gentleman, so far as opportunity is given us, in putting forward that Bill. But the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture must feel with us—he must in his inward heart be on our side—with respect to the appeal we are now making, in endeavouring to move the stony heart and disposition of the Leader of the House in order to secure some prospect of advancement for this measure. The measure is in no danger of obstruction whatever, unless it be in some secret manner organised by Her Majesty's Government. Now, I must say that I hardly feel that the gravity and magnitude of the question of the Irish Local Government Bill has been weighed by Her Majesty's Government. It is quite true that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has promised us that he will move the Second Reading of that Bill when the Committee stage of the Small Holdings Bill is concluded, and to that proposition we take no objection whatever in itself but this—that if the Local Government Bill for Ireland is in this manner attached and chained to the Small Holdings Bill for England, every postponement of the one is a postponement of the other; and as the art of delaying an obnoxious measure by an astute postponement of some measure which precedes it is well understood in this House, the right hon. Gentleman must see that this exposes him to suspicion as to the reality of his intentions with regard to the Local Government Bill for Ireland. We have had again and again the most solemn promises from Her Majesty's Government, and from a large portion of their supporters, with regard to that Bill, and it appertains to the honour of Parliament to see that they are redeemed. It is not simply because Irish Local Government is a very important matter in itself, but it is also, in the view of the majority of the Members of this House, and of Her Majesty's Ministers, a proper substitute for Home Rule. Nobody on that side of the House has said that the Government of Ireland ought to remain 1674 as it is. The language held has been, "We are as anxious to deal with the question as you are, but we think your manner bad and we think our way good;" and that more excellent way of dealing with it is that unfolded in the Irish Local Government Bill. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite may be able to prove, by superhuman powers of argument, that they are right. I will not enter upon that at the present moment, but I do say that it is a question in regard to which the Government should shield themselves from the imputation of indirect dealing, and seek the earliest moment of placing us in possession of their intentions with regard to it, by pushing forward the Small Holdings Bill, which not only has the highest claims on its own account, but derives an additional claim from its relation to the Irish Local Government Bill. But it seems that we are not to take that Bill, on the ground that a Scottish measure is to be proceeded with on Monday night, with respect to which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), who, though differing from Her Majesty's Government, does on this occasion speak the opinion of the majority of the Scottish Members, has said that the information is not ready to enable the House to enter into a discussion; so that we are ordered—I will not say forced—into a discussion with respect to which those principally concerned declare that the information is not ripe. In order to enter into this discussion for which we are not prepared, we are forbidden to enter into a discussion for which we are prepared, and which we all desire to enter into. I hope that some impression has been made on the flinty feelings which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has developed, by the appeals which have been addressed to him, and that he will endeavour to dissipate that cloud of mystery which is hanging over the proceedings of the Government. In view of the coming Dissolution, we feel naturally interested to have all the information that can be given us, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make a frank declaration as to the intentions of the Government, and so place us in the position of understanding, in some degree, what is to be the course of affairs during the year, and how soon 1675 Parliament, which can now only do a very limited amount of work, is to apply some portion of the time which is left to it in a useful manner by advancing these great measures and by meeting the engagements to which the right hon. Gentleman and Her Majesty's Government are pledged.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The criticisms upon this side of the House and the other side fall naturally into two classes. With the first of these I shall deal very briefly. It consists of a general criticism of the method in which we have conducted our business. The hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottinghamshire (Mr. John Ellis) has attacked the Government, and has said that business is in a deplorably backward condition, and that this deplorable state of things is due entirely to the want of method and vigour of those who have the conduct of the business of this House. I differ from the premisses of the hon. Gentleman, and I differ from his conclusions. I do not think that business is specially backward this Session, considering the time at which we began our labours in February, and especially considering the amount of time which has been, so to speak, exceptionally and unexpectedly employed on questions of Privilege and Private business. I think several most important measures—measures not the less important because they have not aroused, or, at all events, need not arouse, great Party feeling—have been well advanced; and I do not see that there is any ground for thinking this Session may not turn out to be peculiarly fruitful in useful legislation. In regard to the hon. Member's criticism upon our method of conducting business, I can only say, so far as the method is concerned, that a Government can do little more than put down important work for such days as they have at their disposal. This they have done. And with regard to the vigour with which they ought to press their proceedings, the vigour which the hon. Gentleman says has been deplorably absent from our conduct of affairs, I do not know what he can mean except the absence of a free use of the Closure. If I have erred in not having used the Closure oftener I apologize, especially to the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. John Ellis). How 1676 I could have stimulated the debate, the completion of debate, by any means in my power to render discussion more compressed, I really do not know. I pass from that to the various criticisms or observations and appeals which have been made to me with regard to the future of business, and will deal with, what I may call without disrespect, the least important before I proceed to deal with those which chiefly occupy the minds of the right hon. Gentlemen, the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), and the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Cremer) has made an appeal on the subject of a resolution in regard to arbitration. He seems to think it is an extremely important and pressing matter. That the matter is an important one, I do not deny; but that it is pressing—that is to say that Her Majesty's Government are showing by their conduct of foreign affairs that they are neglecting the use of arbitration where it can with advantage be used—I should have thought an obvious and notorious fact might have convinced him to the contrary.
§ MR. CREMER
Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me to say there is nothing in the Motion of which I have given notice nor anything that I have said which can lead to such a conclusion as that which the right hon. Gentleman has just drawn?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My point is that if the Government have shown, as I think they have shown, a most earnest desire to use arbitration whenever that method is applicable, it does prove that the Motion of the hon. Member is not of an extraordinarily pressing character. I do not put it higher than that. Then the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. James Rowlands) asked me a question as to District Councils. The question of District Councils is an important one of itself, and that it may have special importance with reference to London and the constitution of vestries in London I do not deny upon the argument he put forward on the subject. But I am afraid it will not be possible for us to introduce, with any hope of passing, the measure which the hon. Member himself must know would be a long, complicated, and controversial measure. And even 1677 the brief Debate we have had is sufficient to show it is not necessary to increase the number of complicated and controversial measures which we have already in hand. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, as well as other hon. Members, discussed the question of Supply. I believe we have given, up to the present day, about as many days to Supply as has been usual. I am sure we have not given an exceptionally small number of days. If the progress during those days has not been sufficiently rapid to meet the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I do not think the Government are to blame. Probably the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Morton), who raised this question, is quite qualified to give an opinion on the cause of the delay. Then the question of the Scotch Equivalent Grant, the Business for next Monday, has been alluded to by the right hon. Member for Midlothian, and has been pressed on my attention by the right hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman). I regret that hon. Members do not feel themselves fully equipped for the discussion of the details of this Bill. But I must remind the House that it has been before the House since the beginning of the Session, and the Second Reading took place considerably before Easter. If this Bill is to become law at all—and I understand the right hon. Gentleman desires that it should—it is extremely desirable that we should not lose any further time in taking its next stage. I have now dealt with all the minor questions, and before coming to the question of the Small Holdings Bill, and the question of the Irish Local Government Bill, I need only notice the appeals which have been made to me to make exceptions in favour of particular Resolutions which attract great interest either in the House generally, or in the breasts of the hon. Members who have charge of them. Two appeals of this nature have been made to me—one by the hon. Member for Roxburghshire (Mr. A. Elliot) and the other by the Member for Antrim (Mr. Macartney). The hon. Member for Roxburgh appealed to me on behalf of the Resolution for the Disestablishment of the Scotch Church. That so important a question as Disestablishment in Scotland can be thoroughly 1678 thrashed out in three hours is wholly absurd. It cannot be done; but nevertheless three hours' debate is not without its use. Probably on the whole, in spite of the inconvenience of endeavouring to compress these great controversies into debates of three hours, the House will choose to do that, and thus be left free to discuss twice as many subjects in preference to giving a full night's discussion once a week, and only getting through half the number of subjects. There is a balance of convenience and inconvenience on both sides, and on the whole I think the decision the Government have come to commends itself to the great majority of the House. Then there is the question of the Motion for next Friday, and the hon. Member for Antrim has appealed to us to give a full evening's debate to the Resolution of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Blane). He says that such a Debate will clear away a good deal of misconception. That entirely depends upon who speaks. I do not conceive that as to the Party for whom the hon. Member for Armagh has the right to speak, there is much doubt in the public mind as to what their attitude is with regard to this Resolution. I do not even think there is any doubt in the public mind as to the attitude of the other section of Irish Nationalist hon. Members who differ from the hon. Member for Armagh. I believe their views are also well known, and I am sure they would not in this House, or elsewhere, express different opinions on this subject to those which commend themselves to the hon. Member for Armagh. I take it there is no doubt as to what the opinions of hon. Members on this side of the House are. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim says he desires to speak on this question, but I am sure my hon. Friend does not think there are any doubts or ambiguities in his own position which require to be cleared up by speech; and, therefore, the misconceptions of which he speaks do not attach to his own opinions or to the opinions of those who act with him. Then I take it there is no doubt as to what the opinions of Gentlemen upon this Bench are. Indeed, I do not think it will be necessary for us to occupy a single moment of the time allotted to the hon. Member for Armagh for the 1679 discussion of his Amendment. If there is misconception, we are reduced by this process of exhaustion to the misconception which attaches to Gentlemen on that (the Opposition Front) Bench. I agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. Macartney) that it would be most convenient to the public interest, and in the interests of that General Election which the right hon. Member for Midlothian has just now alluded to, that any misconception which may exist with regard to the opinions of so important a section of the House should be cleared up. But that can only be cleared up if they speak, and possibly it may not be cleared up even if they do speak, and I wish to put this before my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim. What security have we that if we give six hours to this Debate, instead of three hours, that hon. Members will either make more speeches or clearer speeches than will be in their power to make during the three hours allotted? It is not in the power of the Government either to compel them to speak, or to compel them to speak in unambiguous terms. If they wish to speak, the opportunity will be given them during the three hours; and if they desire to speak I can see that no power of compulsion which resides in any part of the House will oblige hon. Members to make quite clear their opinions upon this interesting and important subject. Under these circumstances, I think my hon. Friend will see that I am compelled to come to the conclusion that while it would require a great sacrifice of Government time to give a full evening's debate for next Friday, there are no certain or even probable grounds for supposing that a full night's discussion would have the effect which he somewhat innocently anticipates. I now turn to the most important criticisms which have been passed upon the Government—criticisms most important in themselves, and coming from a quarter which specially deserves consideration. The right hon. Member for Midlothian seems to think that the course of business proposed by the Government is one of so mysterious a character that it hides, or may be supposed to hide, some dark Machiavellian design, and he implores us in our own interest to make clear what our position is. I have no difficulty in making that 1680 clear. It seems to me that the ambiguities, if he will allow me to say so with respect, are the creations, to a certain extent, of his own imagination. Where we differ from the right hon. Gentleman is, in simply beginning the Small Holdings Bill one week later than he desires. That is the whole difference between us. Nobody wished us to take it in the week after we met, and there was no desire to take it before the House rose for the Easter holidays. I do not see what contingency can arise which will put it beyond Monday week. Therefore, a week's difference in commencing the discussion on the Small Holdings Bill is absolutely the only foundation upon which this enormous superstructure of criticism and suspicion has been raised by the hon. Member opposite. Now, what is lost in the hon. Members' view by that? They seem to think that putting off the Small Holdings Bill for a week will in some mysterious way endanger the future progress of the Irish Local Government Bill. I have two observations to make upon that. The right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) told us that in his estimate it would only take us four Sittings to complete the discussion in Committee on the Small Holdings Bill. Therefore if we begin it, not next Monday, but Monday week, we should embark on the discussion of the Second Reading of the Irish Local Government Bill on Monday, 16th May. Is that putting off the Local Government Bill to some dim and distant future? At the latest that brings us to the central part of the Session when the House is peculiarly well attended, and when all those who desire will be able to express their opinions and to take part in the Debate. So much for the injury done to the Irish Local Government Bill. Let me say before I leave that subject that this interest in the Irish Local Government Bill from gentlemen opposite fills me with surprise. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, putting into our mouths language which I, at all events, have not been responsible for, tells us that the Local Government Bill is our alternative for Home Rule—not the Home Rule which he proposed in 1886, but which he is going to propose some day. I can assure him that is not the view we 1681 take of the subject. We think that as we have reformed Local Government in England and in Scotland so we shall reform Local Government in Ireland. But this is in no sense a substitute or alternative for a Home Rule scheme. That this is to be considered on the same level, that it is to be regarded as at all a measure of an analogous kind is a doctrine I must absolutely refuse to accept. That is not all. This measure of Local Government, which hon. Members are so extremely anxious we should discuss, is one which all their leaders opposite have announced their intention of obstructing by every means in their power. I do not understand their new attitude. When I introduced the Bill they got up one after another—the right hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley), the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), the hon. Member for Derry (Mr. Justin McCarthy), every leader of every section of the House rose, and did not content themselves with a denouncement of the measure, but said the measure was so bad that they would leave no stone unturned to prevent it becoming law. Therefore, when they press the Government to bring it on, it is evidently their object to wreck the Session. They have expressed their policy of obstruction openly; they believe themselves to have the power of so resisting the Bill that they will be able to prolong its discussion to such a degree that the Bill will have to be dropped. Under these circumstances, they are practically asking us to extend and to waste—because they will stop the Bill—the rest of the Session upon an effort to pass this measure—an effort which they intend to make abortive. That is an attitude which is not very consistent in itself; and if there are dark and Machiavellian designs behind any statement of policy made in this House, it is behind the statement of hon. Members opposite, and not behind ours, that those dark schemes are to be detected. The real object which we have in view in attempting to go on in the course of next week with the concluding part of the Committee upon the Indian Councils Bill, the Criminal Law Evidence Bill, the Scotch Equivalent Grant Bill, and other smaller measures which I hope may pass without controversy, is, that we may take the Agricultural Small 1682 Holdings Bill de die in diem, that we may then have the Second Reading of the Irish Local Government Bill, and that during the interval which must elapse between the Second Reading and Committee stage we may take another stage of those less controversial and less important, but still useful, measures to which I have alluded. This is a very plain statement of a very plain policy. The idea that the Small Holdings Bill is less likely to become law because it begins on Monday, the 9th May, instead of Monday, the 2nd May; that is because it begins a week later than hon. Members desire, is obviously absurd. The Bill, I trust, is perfectly safe, and I trust also the other measures I have mentioned are perfectly safe. I can assure hon. Members that not only do I desire to bring to discussion the Irish Local Government Bill, but that I am looking forward with the keenest interest and enjoyment to the Debate we shall have on that subject. If they think we shrink from that discussion, they are entirely mistaken. There is no deeper design in the very plain programme which I have ventured to lay before the House other than I have stated. I hope, therefore, that whatever may be the shortcomings of the Government in the past, or their duplicity with regard to the future, that at all events the Resolution before the House is one which should be passed, and that the House will, without any further serious debate, proceed to take a Division upon it.
§ MR. MORTON
May I ask the right hon. Member if he will answer the question I have mentioned respecting the Ordnance Vote, and the other as to the appointment of a Committee to consider the reporting of the Parliamentary Debates?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
As to the Ordnance Vote, I am afraid that I cannot give any definite information on the point. With regard to the Committee, the hon. Member will be aware that, in answer to a question put to me by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), I stated that I would appoint a Committee in conformity with the pledge I gave on that subject some time ago; but that if the Committee was to be a Joint Committee, I could not make any definite 1683 statement until I had had an opportunity of consultation.
§ MR. CREMER
There is another point which the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten to answer—that is, as to the period the Resolution is to remain in force?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Judging from past experience, if there is any new apportionment between Government time and the time of Members, that apportionment is more likely to be against private Members than the present one; but I cannot tell the hon. Member, until I see how Business progresses, whether any further alteration will be made.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I wish to ask if the Government will adopt a slight Amendment at the end of their Motion in order that we may have a discussion when we meet at nine o'clock? Very often there are not 40 Members present, and it happens that before a Motion can be submitted someone calls the attention of the Speaker to the fact. I should like the First Lord of the Treasury to consider the desirability of adding these words—And this House shall not be liable to be counted out on the evening of such Tuesdays and Fridays before 9.15 p.m.I move this, in order that we may have a quarter of an hour's grace before we can be counted out.
At the end of the Question, to add the words, "And this House shall not be liable to be counted out on the evening of such Tuesdays and Fridays before 9.15 p.m."—(Dr. Clark.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am sure that no body of gentlemen would regard the acceptance of this Amendment with more heartfelt dismay than private Members themselves. Therefore, I cannot accept it in their interests. I do not think that you would gain anything by an extra quarter of an hour. If Members will not come down at nine o'clock, it is hardly likely they will come down at a quarter past.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet at Two of the clock on Tuesday and Friday; and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the Morning Sitting on those days.