§ (4.36.) MR. LABOUCHERE
I only rose before in order to elicit some information from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. As I have pointed out, the business here will be finished absolutely on Thursday, and with a little goodwill on the part of the Lords the business in the Upper Chamber could also be finished by Thursday. The writs could then be issued on Friday, and delivered on Saturday to the constituencies. The election could also take place the week afterwards. Not only that, but the Saturday for which we are contending would be included in the permissible days upon which the polling could take place. I quite agree with the First Lord of the Treasury that there are places where, no doubt, Saturday would be an undesirable day for the election. We never for one moment asserted that it would be a universally convenient day for the purpose. We merely said that in a certain number of places it is considered—whether rightly or wrongly—that Saturday is the most convenient day, and we only desired that the Saturday should be included in the days upon which the returning officer may order the poll to be taken. Under those circumstances I hope that the First Lord of the Treasury will re-consider the position he took up a day or two ago, and that after having communicated with his colleagues and the House of Lords we shall be informed that the Dissolution is to take place so that the polling may occur on the Saturday.
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
I think the right hon. Gentleman would also do well to complete the information which he gave the other day as to the work we are expected to do before we are released. Certain measures were 1574 to be passed, but there were others with regard to which the First Lord of the Treasury said nothing definite. It is very inconvenient for Members who are interested in the measures about which there is no certainty to come here when perhaps they are wanted elsewhere. There is the Archdeaconry of Cornwall Bill. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that there is no desire for it except on the part of certain interested individuals, and that there is a good deal of public opposition to it. I think, therefore, he might say whether that Bill is to be pushed on under present circumstances. There is another matter I should like to refer to, and that is the continual interference by Peers of the Realm in the elections of Members of this House, which has been ruled in this House to be extremely improper. I know that we have no control over the House of Peers, but I do not think it should be allowed. It is scarcely courteous to this House for noblemen who occupy high positions to set at defiance the privileges of this House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will set my mind and the minds of others at rest in regard to this matter, and that he will also say that the Archdeaconry of Cornwall Bill shall be withdrawn.
§ MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)
I wish to make one remark with reference to the day of the Dissolution. It is clear that whatever days are fixed certain other days must be excluded. Hon. Members are desirous of including Saturday and Monday among the days to be selected; but if reference is made to the election of 1866 it will be found that the larger number of the elections took place on the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and to some extent on Friday. Therefore the Government would not do wisely in excluding those days for the other two days. I think the two most inconvenient days all round, owing to the disfranchisement which takes place on them, are the Saturday and the Monday, and I hope that in the interests of Democratic principles the Government will take care that Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are not excluded, but that the elections shall take place on those days.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend into the discussion which we went into last Thursday upon this question. I rise to answer the questions of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) with regard to the Archdeaconry of Cornwall Bill. I desired to see that Bill passed into law; but I am aware that there is opposition to it in the House, and that one result of dealing with it would be to keep Gentlemen here at a time when, in the ordinary course, they would probably be occupying themselves in another, if not more agreeable, fashion. Under those circumstances, I shall not endeavour to proceed with it. In regard to what has been said as to the action of Members of the House of Lords, I have always understood that the mode in which the rule has hitherto been applied is that no peer shall speak in favour of a candidate after the writ for the election has been issued. I am not a legal authority, but that is the view I have always heard taken in this House. I do not think there is any justification for entering into a conflict with the House of Lords as to the precise line of demarcation on one side of which it should be legitimate for a peer to speak in a constituency at an election, while on the other side it would be illegitimate for him to do so. I have no doubt my colleagues in the House of Lords have made themselves acquainted with what passed in this House the other night, and that they know there is a desire to close the business of the Session as soon as possible. It must, however, be recollected that when this House sends up not only many Bills, but important Bills, to the House of Lords at the end of the Session, it is not fair to ask the House of Lords to do what we would not do in this House—namely, suspend the Standing Orders, so that they may take all the stages of those Bills on the same day. That is a proceeding which the House of Commons is prepared to take with reference to minor and uncontroversial Bills; but that course could not possibly be taken, either in the House of Lords or in this House, in respect of measures about 1576 which a considerable difference of opinion may exist. Have we any right, for instance, to expect that all the successive stages of the Education Bill should be got rid of by the House of Lords in one day? It would be a proceeding which would be contrary not only to their practice, but contrary to our practice as well. There is this further point to bear in mind. One of the most important Bills is the Small Holdings Bill. It is possible that some discussion may be necessary on the Amendments passed by the House of Lords with reference to that Bill. Personally, I should deplore that result, but it is a contingency that may arise. For these reasons, I do not think that anything has occurred which should lead me to depart from the position previously taken up, and which rendered it absolutely impossible that the Council for the Prorogation could be held earlier than next week.
§ *(4.48.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
Before we part from the question, I think it is due to the House, according to precedent, that the Government should state the date upon which they intend to prorogue and to dissolve. When we were in precisely similar circumstances last time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, who then represented the Government, was called upon by the present President of the Board of Trade to state to the House the dates of Prorogation and Dissolution. My right hon. Friend at once complied with the request, and I think he told the House that it would be prorogued on the Friday and dissolved on the Saturday. I do not wish to reopen the question about the Saturday. The hon. Member for Stockport thought that Monday would not be a convenient day for the working classes. I will only say that, in my opinion, Monday would be a convenient day for polling in many places outside London. Strong arguments may be used for and against Saturday, but that Monday would be a most convenient day there cannot be the shadow of a doubt. I will not pursue that question further. I will only point out that on the last occasion the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill took 1577 place on the Monday, as it will take place to-night. The Indian Budget was then brought in, as it will be on this occasion, and at the close of the Session the House adjourned until the Thursday in order to wait for the Bills from the House of Lords. The House of Lords then had the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, as they will now have. The Bills were brought back on the Thursday, Parliament was prorogued on the Friday, and the Dissolution took place on the Saturday. I would further point out that there are no important Bills now on the Paper—every important Bill having gone to the other House. There is no necessity then for the House of Lords to suspend their Standing Orders, because all the important Bills were there last week. I would therefore now ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury to state the date of the Dissolution. Will it be Tuesday, the 28th, Wednesday, the 29th, or Thursday, the 30th? I think we should know the date before this Bill is allowed to be read a third time.
§ (4.52.) MR. BALFOUR
I have refrained from fixing absolutely, within twelve hours, the date on which the Dissolution should take place; but as the right hon. Gentleman has made an appeal to me, I do not think that I should be justified in resisting it. I will say, therefore, that the Council for the Prorogation and Dissolution will be held on the first day on which, I think, we can clearly look forward to having completed all the business which is before us, and that would be Tuesday, the 28th.