§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
moved the following Resolution:—That, at Eleven o'clock p.m. on Friday the 25th day of August, if the proceedings on the Consideration of the Report of the Government of Ireland Bill be not previously concluded, the Speaker shall put forthwith the Question, or Questions, on any Amendment, or Motion, already proposed from the Chair. He shall next proceed to put forthwith the Question on any Government Amendments of which notice has been given, after which he shall put forthwith the Question on the Motion appointing a day for the Third Reading of the Bill. Until the Report is disposed of, no Motion of Adjournment under Standing Order 17 shall be received, nor any dilatory Motion on the Bill unless moved by one of the Members in charge of the Bill, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith. Proceedings under this Order shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.The right hon. Gentleman said: In bringing forward the Motion of which I have given Notice, I certainly shall make no such contribution to the coming Debate as is likely to lead us into difficulty, for it appears to me that the Resolution which I now move will be recognised, even by those who oppose it, as almost a necessary sequel to the Resolution moved by me on a former occasion, and then made the subject of large discussion. All the general considerations bearing upon a Resolution of that kind were then so sufficiently debated that it does not rest with me, I think—indeed, it is not within my power—to add anything of an original or novel character to the Debate which then took place. The only change is this: that at the time when the Resolution was moved we had spent 44 days on the various stages of the Bill, and that now we have spent 74 days—to which my Resolution proposes to add five more, bringing the number up to 79 days, and that without any reference to the Debate on the 651 Third Reading. That is not very far from double the amount of time that has ever been occupied in the discussion of any of the most important Constitutional measures that have ever passed through this House. I do not wish to re-argue the case; far less do I wish to urge a single word that could possibly be interpreted into censure upon those gentlemen who sit opposite. They have taken undoubtedly a very unusual course, and that, I think, no one among them will be prepared to deny; but their allegation is that they have taken it in consequence of circumstances and in consequence of being called upon to act upon motives that are likewise altogether unusual. Thereby a very great issue—not only a great Parliamentary issue, but a great historical issue—is raised between us and gentlemen opposite. I do not intend to enter upon any discussion of it at this time. All I wish to do now is to say that the Motion I make is a Motion absolutely required by the iron chain of consequences after what has taken place. If the Motion which I formerly made for the application of the Closure in Committee on the Bill was justified by the circumstances in which we then stood with 44 days of the Debate behind us, I think that in the latter part of the month of August, and with 74 days of debate behind us, it is still more obviously called for and exacted from us by a sense of our public duty. We believe that a vast question is undoubtedly raised as to the provisions of the Home Rule Bill, but outside those provisions there is a question still larger which underlies this and every subject coming before Parliament—namely, the question of whether a minority, even though a large and powerful minority, can legitimately, by the augmentation of the bulk of the Bill and the bulk of Amendments, create discussion apart from the simple discussion of the merits of the case—though, no doubt, gentlemen opposite think that those 74 days have been spent in discussion on the merits. [Opposition cheers.] That is a very thin cheer—if it were an expression of a general sentiment it would have been more emphatic. Our view, however, is that a large portion of the discussion has been unnecessary, and we notice with surprise that it is an allegation made by the Opposition that it has not been in their power to obtain any discussion on 652 the greater part of the clauses of the Bill. When I look back over those 74 days — I will not say anything about the 16 days before we went into Committee, because I am under the impression that the Debates on those 16 days were not very unequally divided—but if I take the 74 days, minus the 16, that leaves 58 days for Committee and Report. I do not hesitate to say that out of those 58 days more than 40 have been expended by the speeches of the opponents of the Bill. Therefore, it appears to me that in the course of 40 days they have not been able so to adjust their argumentation and eloquence as to discuss a large portion of the most important provisions of the Bill. That is certainly a part of our case. It may be said very truly that this is a case of which the nation at large will be the only final judge. [Opposition cheers.] That cheer from gentlemen opposite expresses their confidence as to that judgment. Well, Sir, we are very strong also in our belief as to that judgment; and, moreover, I think we have this confidence: that the favourable judgment which the nation, as a whole, did form and did express upon the most solemn of all Constitutional engagements will be much enhanced by what has since taken place, and especially by what has taken place respecting the manner in which, under the influence of our conscientious convictions, we have felt ourselves compelled to treat this Bill. I have been faithful to my promise not to trespass largely on the attention of the House, and I hope also that I have not said a word which can be offensive to anyone. I have made the largest admissions to which hon. Gentlemen opposite are entitled. We must contend for the broad proposition, on which we take our stand, and we must maintain the legitimacy and necessity of the Motion that I now make as absolutely essential for securing in any real and Constitutional shape the liberty and the efficacy of Parliamentary discussion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, at Eleven o'clock p.m. on Friday the 25th day of August, if the proceedings on the Consideration of the Report of the Government of Ireland Bill be not previously concluded, the Speaker shall put forthwith the Question, or Questions, on any Amendment, or Motion, already proposed from the Chair. He shall next proceed to put forthwith the Question on any Government Amendments of which notice
has been given, after which he shall put forthwith the Question on the Motion appointing a day for the Third Reading of the Bill. Until the Report is disposed of, no Motion of Adjournment under Standing Order 17 shall be received, nor any dilatory Motion on the Bill unless moved by one of the Members in charge of the Bill, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith. Proceedings under this Order shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House."—(Mr. W. E. Gladstone.)
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
moved the following Amendment:—That the proposal of the Government to curtail Debate on the Government of Ireland Bill is calculated to degrade the House of Commons to the position of a voting machine, and to deprive the British majority in this House of its Constitutional right to discuss a policy by which British interests will be seriously and injuriously affected; and that this House, recognising no necessity for the course proposed by the Government, and believing that it is dictated by motives of Party expediency, declines to accept a Resolution by which the Government arbitrarily claim to limit Debate on a measure of the highest National importance, the greater part of which has already been forced through the stage of Committee without any discussion.He said: Mr. Speaker, in answering a question just now, my right hon. Friend referred to the fact that the Amendment which is now upon the Paper in ray name differs somewhat from that of which I gave notice on Friday last. I owe it to him to state that that difference is not owing to any change of opinion on my part, but is due to a suggestion I received that as the Amendment was originally drawn it went beyond the subject-matter of the original Resolution, and might, therefore, be held to be out of Order. Under those circumstances, I of course felt it undesirable to submit it in that shape to the House. I am afraid I cannot promise to be as brief as my right hon. Friend, who has treated the Motion —which I venture to say is one of the most important ever made in this House, both in regard to its immediate effect and the precedent it sets—as though it were a mere subject of formal discussion to be disposed of in a few minutes. Yet I will promise to say what I have to say in as short a time as I possibly can. In the first place, I should like to clear the ground by making a statement which I hope will meet with no opposition in any quarter. In dealing with any proposal to curtail Debate in this House I 654 imagine that we shall all agree that such a proposal must be considered and judged upon its merits, and without reference to any previous proposal. No one will say, not even hon. Gentlemen opposite, that closure or curtailment of Debate is justifiable in every case. I shall not say that closure is not justifiable in some cases, and, consequently, it appears to me that any one who makes a Resolution of this kind has to show that the particular circumstances with which he has to deal justify the particular measure which he proposes. I think that that will be generally admitted, and it follows from that that it will be very difficult to deal with the matter by reference to precedents, because it is almost impossible to find any precedent which shall exactly agree with the present situation. My right hon. Friend on a previous occasion referred to precedents. He referred to the precedent of 1887. I will refer both to the precedents of 1881 and 1887, and I say in regard to both of them that they are absolutely and in toto different from the present situation. There is absolutely no comparison between them. They differ essentially in the importance and magnitude of the measure which is under consideration, and discussion upon which is to be arbitrarily cut short. They differ in the character of the positions, they differ in the number of the minority, and they differ—and that is not the least important difference—in the state and drift of public opinion. I am afraid, however, in making that statement I cannot count on agreement from my right hon. Friend, because on the previous occasion he spoke of the precedent of 1887 as if it were practically and substantially on all fours with the present case. That was, I think, the view on which he founded himself in claiming the action of the Conservative Government in 1887 as justifying the action of the Liberal Government in 1893. Under these circumstances there is an issue between us, as to which I will only say that I do not think we can fairly be accused of inconsistency in supporting the Closure in 1887 and opposing it now, so long as we believe that the circumstances are entirely different. On the other hand, 1887 is a precedent which ought to guide us as to the course which should be taken by my right hon. Friend. He says that the circumstances are 655 practically and substantially the same. Under the circumstances, the view which he took in 1887 ought to be the view which he takes now.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Were similar. My right hon. Friend quoted the case of 1887 as substantially justifying him in taking it as a precedent and in governing his own action by it. Now, before I part with 1887, let me say a word about the precedent of 1881, because that also was a suggestive case and well worthy the attention of the House. That was the first occasion on which the Closure was introduced into the House of Commons, and I am of opinion now, as then, that the circumstances called for such a proposal. But in speaking of that proposal, my right hon. Friend, no longer ago than in 1890, said—We proposed a plan of Closure of Debate which was never intended—and we made it known it was never intended—to be used by the majority against the minority in the ordinary sense, but was only intended to enable the House, when it was possessed, irrespective of Party, with a concurrent feeling to put a stop to the occasional obstinacy, or, I might almost say, impertinence—at any rate, importunity— that is a better word—of some particular member not gifted with as much wisdom as zeal.That was the interpretation which my right hon. Friend gave of his own intention, and that statement is justified by a reference to the Debate and his speech in proposing that Resolution. He said that he was asking the minority of the House toPlace some reliance upon the spirit of equity and the sense of honour of the majority.My right hon. Friend was then of opinion that no majority was justified in dealing with a minority in the ordinary sense of the word, and that the sense of honour and equity of the majority would itself be sufficient to restrain them. Sir, I am afraid that the situation has changed since then. We can no longer count on the sense of equity and the sense of honour of the majority, and we have to trust, and we do trust, to that dominant inflow of influences from every part of the country, which, sooner or later, will bring home, even to this majority, a sense of the abuse which they are perpetrating on the forms of the House. That was the opinion of my 656 right hon. Friend in 1881. In 1887 the late Government introduced a much more drastic form of Closure, for which they thought they had good warrant, and my right hon. Friend, although I believe he did not vote against it, expressed his serious objections to it. Speaking of it in 1890—only three years ago—my right hon. Friend said—A system of coercion has been imported, not only in Ireland, but into the House of Commons, and an endeavour has been made, with a large amount of success, to substitute the system of coercion for the ancient spirit which left in the House of Commons an atmosphere free and pure, worthy of Britons to breathe, consecrated by the recollections of 600 years, and, if we could have had our way, to be handed down as free and pure as we received it to those who are to follow us in life and in political action.Now you have your way, why do not you hand down the spirit of freedom to those who are to follow you in life and in political action? Sir, my right hon. Friend may have been perfectly justified in his condemnation of the Conservative Government. At any rate, he has put on record the view he took of their proposal; he said it was a proposal for coercion. He said it destroyed the pure spirit of freedom in the House of Commons, and yet he now comes down to this House and proposes a still more drastic Resolution than that which he himself condemned. In 1881, as I say, he defended a Closure Motion, because he said it was irrespective of Party, and not to be employed by the majority against the minority, as that word is generally understood. In 1887 he repudiated a Closure Motion as being coercion, as destroying the atmosphere of freedom which ought to prevail in the House of Commons. I say the situation is practically the same now. What the Prime Minister thought in 1890 ought not to be a cause for Closure, has not become a cause for Closure three years afterwards in 1893, and I must say it is a strange form of political morality which first condemns in the strongest language an offence and then makes that offence itself an excuse for committing a greater. Now, let us look at the circumstances under which this Motion is being made. My right hon. Friend in his few remarks said that the House would see that this was a necessary sequel to his previous guillotine Resolution, and that he was bound by an 657 iron chain of consequence. Sir, I entirely agree with that. The present Motion does not, in the slightest degree, surprise us. Tyranny grows by what it feeds upon. My right hon. Friend is, under that iron chain of circumstances, quite willing to go farther, and we shall very shortly see him rising to closure Supply, which has never been closured in this House before, and we shall see him closuring the Bills which he brings forward in the autumn. We shall have legislation by gag substituted for legislation by discussion. The Report stage of this Bill—the greatest constitutional change which has ever been proposed in the House of Commons—has occupied 10 days. Of that number seven days were occupied with new clauses, most of which dealt with entirely new matter, clauses which were so important and so valuable that the Government have accepted no fewer than six of them. The three remaining days have been occupied by the discussion on the Preamble and on the 4th clause of the Bill. The discussion on the 4th clause is not quite finished, but had there been no Closure it would not have lasted much longer. My right hon. Friend has professed in the course of our Debates that the discussion upon the Report stage has been a mere repetition of the discussion upon the Committee stage. That is not the case; the facts do not justify any such allegation. We have taken only four days over the first four clauses, the most important clauses of the Bill—those which are generally called the "operative" clauses —and over the Preamble. In Committee we took 27 days. I will come to that directly, but for the moment I merely put these two figures in contrast to show that a Debate which took four days cannot be a repetition of a Debate which took 27 days. On the contrary, the fact distinctly proves that the Opposition have followed the policy which they publicly avowed of reserving their efforts for new matter which bad not been discussed, and only reviewed over again what had previously been discussed, but which had either been insufficiently explained, or as to which there was some hope that even at the last moment the Government might not be indisposed to make some concession. Twenty-seven days were spent upon the first four clauses of the 658 Bill. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman ironically cheers the efforts we have given to a measure which has practically occupied the whole of his attention during the last seven years of his life. He complains that we pay too much attention to this measure—that we treat it too seriously; but it is not open to him to say that there has been frivolous or unnecessary discussion. Again, the facts are against him; and what are they? What was the nature of this discussion that occupied so long a period? we discussed in that time 331 lines out of 1,495 lines in the Bill— less than one-fourth. Of these 331 lines 176 remain of the original text, and 155 have been amended; and if you add the subsequent Amendments by the Government, which have been added during the Report stage, and add the new clauses which have been accepted by the Government, I am putting it very moderately indeed when I say that more than half of that portion of the Bill which has been discussed is new matter introduced in Committee in consequence of the discussion which my right hon. Friend deprecates with so much warmth. I say that every one of these Amendments must have been carried with the consent of the Government and with their goodwill. We have not been able to persuade any of their followers ever to vote with us when there was the slightest chance of their defeat, even upon a trivial Amendment. Every Amendment, therefore, is an Amendment to which the Government are parties, and it is not open to them to say that these Amendments are frivolous, or that they are Amendments which were intended to destroy the Bill —although if they had been Amendments to destroy the Bill, I see no ground whatever for the argument that we were not entitled, opposed as we are to the principle of this Bill, to put down Amendments which might have that effect. Well, Sir, the figures which I have quoted show clearly that there never was a measure whose authors have been convicted of so many blunders and so many omissions. Who is there to say that what has happened in regard to the fourth of the Bill which has been discussed would not happen if you gave us the opportunity of discussing the remaining three-fourths—that by some 659 extraordinary skill we have been able to take up only those parts of the Bill which require amendment, and that the parts which we have left undiscussed are all perfect in their original form? One-fourth of this Bill has been amended, as I have said, to the extent of one-half its total capacity. The remaining three-fourths of the Bill will be sent up to another place unhouseled and unanealed, with all its imperfections on its head. I think I have shown that the discussion which has taken place has not been without profit—profit to the Bill, profit to the Government, who have accepted those Amendments; and I say that that is a strong argument for securing that the remainder of the measure shall be submitted to the same ordeal. And yet it is under these circumstances that the Government bring forward now a second guillotining Resolution which surpasses in stringency even the one to which they last invited our attention. We are told that it is not usual on Report stage to occupy a very long portion of the time of the House. That is perfectly true; but to what great, Bill can you point in the history of this Parliament—I will hot say of similar importance, for there is no such Bill—but to what great Bill of magnitude and importance only one-fourth of which has been discussed during Committee stage? There was good reason, even if the Government felt themselves bound to closure the Committee stage of the Bill at the time they did, why they should have been very tender and very patient before they closured the Report stage, leaving so large a portion of their measure entirely without discussion. What is the reason which the Government vouchsafes to us for introducing into the House of Commons coercion which they themselves condemned — for committing a crime which they themselves denounced? The Government tell us, and they appeal to the House to say, that there was no alternative open to them; that absolute necessity, and absolute necessity alone, has brought them to this condition. The great Lord Chatham said that "necessity was the argument of tyrants and the creed of slaves." we can sec that this is the argument of tyrants. Whether it will be the creed of slaves we shall know after the Division. What is this necessity, this dire necessity, to which the Go- 660 vernment appeal, and in consequence of which they commit an act which they themselves loathe, and which they know will be followed by consequences fatal to the dignity and credit of the House of Commons? The necessity has been stated by my right hon. Friend; it is that this Bill must be passed during the year of the Parliamentary Session. I would say, in passing, that I do not admit even that to be a necessity. When you are dealing with a Bill of this transcendant importance, a Bill which raises vast, issues, which affects enormously the honour of Great Britain, which endangers, as we think—which, at all events, touches —the best interests of the United Kingdom, which may menace the existence of the Empire—[Laughter] — I do not imagine that hon. Gentlemen opposite (the Irish Members) care about the Empire, but that there is risk has been admitted again and again by the Government in our Debates; in dealing with a Bill of this kind, that will be irrevocable if it be passed into law, a Bill which you cannot repeal except at the risk of civil war, I should have thought that time, and ample time, and all the time which an Opposition representing one of the great Parties in the State could demand, would have been willingly conceded by the Government in charge of the Bill, even if it should June been necessary in these circumstances to transfer the consideration of some portion of the measure to a second Session. But I do not believe—and I think I have some right to speak in this matter—that it would have been necessary—indeed, I am perfectly convinced, had the Government proceeded as, I believe, any other Government would have proceeded, in dealing with this matter—had they not irritated the House and made the Opposition indignant by introducing this drastic Closure, by shortening Debate upon such a measure—had they not used their temporary power to ride roughshod over the minority, I believe the discussion upon the Bill, which we ourselves should have admitted to be a full and fair discussion, might have been completed within the year. I have said before, and I say again, there never was any idea of killing this Bill by time. [Laughter, and shouts of "Oh!"] I wonder what my right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), who has had this long experience 661 of courtesies of the House of Commons, thinks of that interruption. It is not usual, it is not courteous, when a Member in his place states, as I state on my honour, that there never was any idea on the part of any responsible Member of the Opposition of killing this Bill by time—it is not usual, at all events, to disbelieve him. Why should we kill the Bill by time? We had hoped at one time, if we had not been silenced, to kill the Bill by argument. Again and again we have had the best of the argument—and the worst of the votes. We had hoped at one time to defeat the Bill by argument, and, if we could not do that, we wanted nothing more than to be able to expose the Bill, its dangers, its risks, and its weaknesses to the people, who have hitherto been kept in the dark, who know nothing of its principles and provisions, and when we bad done that there would have been nothing more to do than to come to a straight issue with you. I say, then, there was no necessity for closuring this Bill? You might have had your Bill. Possibly you would have had to take your Autumn Session for its consideration. But you would have had it before Christmas; and we should not then have been able to say that the Bill goes to the House of Lords three-fourths of it absolutely without discussion. No, Sir; that is not the true necessity. The real necessity lies in this—that the Government dare not stand on the measure which they have submitted. We have had reference made to the Reform Bill of 1831. It is an interesting history to compare with the history of this Bill. The Bill of 1831 was a simple measure; it dealt with one question only; it had been discussed and canvassed in every town, in every village, in every hamlet throughout the land; it was backed by the enthusiasm of a great people; and yet what would have happened if the Government of that day —if Lord Grey—had tried to pass in a single Session, not only the Reform Bill, but a Bill for local government in England, and Bills for the emancipation of slaves, for the removal of Jewish disabilities, and half-a-dozen other objects which were at that time in the programme of the Liberal Government? No, Sir; Lord Grey, when the Bill was 662 defeated in the House of Commons, dissolved Parliament.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Really, Sir, I shall have to teach my hon. Friend below me English history. When the Bill was defeated in the House of Commons Lord Grey dissolved, and he came back with a great majority; he brought in his Bill again; he devoted the whole Session to that Bill, and to no other measure of the slightest importance. It was under these circumstances, under that pressure from the country with that declared mandate, that the Bill went up to the House of Lords and was finally passed. What is the position of this Government? Have they made their great measure the one measure of a Session? No, Sir, for a good reason. Unlike Lord Grey, they know there is no enthusiasm behind it; they know there is no one in the country, or in this House, hardly anyone except the Prime Minister and, perhaps, the Chief Secretary, who believes in this Bill. I say if it ever had a chance—which I do not believe it ever had—that chance has been destroyed by the alteration of the 9th clause; it has been destroyed by the financial arrangements, which propose to mulct Great Britain in order to secure a permanent surplus to the Irish Government. For the second time the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government has used a majority which he obtained under other pretexts to attempt to carry a Home Rule Bill, and for the second time the publication of his proposals has destroyed his majority and discredited him in the country. If they were to go to the country to-day, they would meet with a more overwhelming defeat than they did in 1886; and it is because they know this, because their agents tell them the same thing—I should like to see the confidential reports from Hereford and from 100 boroughs and counties in the United Kingdom— it is because they know this that they want this Bill, this damnosa hereditas, hustled out of the way in order that they may patch up a damaged reputation with the Parish Councils and Local Veto Bills. We are to have an Autumn Session, not in order to carry anything— I do not believe the Government themselves are sanguine enough to believe 663 they will get any of their measures through—but they must make a great show of doing something, or else the heterogeneous sections of their majority will soon fall to pieces. They know that every one of these great Bills which they have proposed in the same Session as the Home Rule Bill requires, and deserves, and must have, careful and elaborate criticism and examination. A short Session is not enough for any one of them, unless, indeed, encouraged by the extraordinary success which waits upon their present efforts, they should once more resort to the Closure—that they should declare that during the dictatorship of the Prime Minister there is to be no Debate in the House of Commons. Then, Sir, the Prime Minister will be able to say, in the words of an historical character to whom at one time I myself was compared—"My mouth shall be the Parliament of England." I suppose their object will be accomplished. If they can make a great show of Bills, that is enough for their English and Scotch supporters. It is only the Irish who demand their pound of flesh. The rest of the Party are satisfied with more moderate concessions. The Government know this, and they treat them accordingly. They know that the Irish will stand no nonsense, and that the rest of their supporters will stand anything. The Prime Minister says—and nobody will dispute the proposition in its simple form—that the majority must rule. He claims for this majority a mandate from the country which he was bound to fulfil. I propose to examine this pretended mandate and this alleged majority. I deny that the Government have any mandate at all, and I say that the majority has been so much discredited that it has no moral weight whatsoever. You pretend that the Government has a mandate from the country to gag Debate in this House. When did you tell the country you intended to carry this vast change without hearing the Representatives of Great Britain on the subject? Did you tell the country you intended to destroy Parliamentary Institutions as well as the Empire? I do not remember it in any of the addresses I had the pleasure of reading. You pretend that you have a mandate for this Home Rule Bill.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member for Oldham answers in the affirmative. Will he answer a second question? For which of these Bills did you have a mandate? Perhaps for both of them, although they are absolutely inconsistent. You say you have a mandate for this Bill. Did you have a mandate, not only to give a Parliament to Ireland, but to enable that Parliament to control your Parliament? Why, we had the pledge and promise of your Leader—it was upon that the Election was taken: it was upon that that the country gave you whatever mandate you can boast; and now, forsooth, we are told that that mandate extends to allowing the Irish Members to be summoned here at times when they are least wanted, and to come like public; executioners to guillotine the political opponents of the Government. You had a mandate! You may have had a mandate for the creation of a subordinate Legislature in Ireland, a Legislature which was compared in your utterances and your speeches to Home Rule in the villages and in London; but you had no mandate for a Parliament over which the supremacy of this Parliament will be an empty sham, and a veto which will be, as the Chief Secretary himself has admitted, a mere Court sword. Where is your mandate to tax Great Britain in order to relieve the pockets of the Irish taxpayers? These are questions upon which you want a mandate, and we beg of you to apply for it. You have confidence in the Party which returns you to power, although you have broken the pledges which you gave to them, although you have produced and are forcing through the House of Commons a Bill totally different from anything you promised. If you have that confidence, and if you will not allow us to discuss your measure, at least you might yield to an appeal, and go again to the country whom you have deceived and trampled upon. Now, what is the majority by which the Government is supported? On the last occasion it was a majority of 29 in this House, and I think it was not altogether a light-hearted majority. I am quite sure many of those who voted voted with the greatest possible reluctance. [Cries of "No!"] Did they vote with joy for the destruc- 665 tion of the liberties of the Parliament of which they are Members? No, I do not believe it; I think better of them. But I ask you, is this the majority which yon count upon to silence a majority in Great Britain and the educated minority in Ireland? Why, Sir; it is a majority which is made up, and more than made up, of those Irish votes which you purchased by a surrender of the best interests of Great Britain. It is a majority largely returned by priests and illiterates and moonlighters. It is a majority convicted by a judicial tribunal of conspiracy to destroy the United Kingdom. It is a majority which at first forced their policy upon the Government, and which the Government are now employing to force their policy on the House of Commons. And yet, Sir, it was in regard to those gentlemen that the Prime Minister said that it would be unsafe and unsatisfactory and a danger to the Empire to deal with Home Rule unless he could have a majority independent of their votes. In any true sense of the word, I do not believe there is a majority on any single item of the Government's programme. This Government is the creation of a system which is carried further than anything similar has ever been carried before in political log-rolling. Here you have the Welshmen voting for Home Rule because they want Disestablishment for Wales. You have the teetotalers voting for Disestablishment, it may be, because they want the local veto. You have the independent Labour Party voting for everything because they want the eight hours day. And I do not believe that any of these sections cares very much for the proposals of any one of the others, and I am quite sure that there are none of them that care at all for Home Rule. And so I say that your majority is not a homogeneous majority, and I believe, such as it is, it will be swept entirely away when once more an appeal is made to those who returned them. Well, now, Sir, I will just summarise what I have put before the House. Here is a Bill which is admitted to be vital to the interests of the United Kingdom, which contains proposals of the greatest importance, most of which are absolutely new to the country, and were never discussed by the country or in the country before the Bill was brought in. Under these circumstances, I should have said 666 that never was there a case where there was a greater necessity for close criticism and careful examination. That necessity has already been proved even by the partial Debates which in your generosity you have allowed us. The Government have altered some of their most essential proposals in important particulars and at short notice. The Bill of which this can be said is also the great main issue between the two Parties in the House, and yet the Government are unwilling to give a Session to its consideration; and, knowing it is unpopular, finding that discussion is making it more unpopular still, they trample on the liberties of the House of Commons, and they gag the opponents they are unable to answer. The result is that three-fourths of the Bill will go up to the House of Lords exactly as it left the hands of its author, without consideration either by friend or by foe. Questions of the deepest import to Great Britain will not even be voted upon, for by this last form of Closure, for the first time in the history of these proceedings, the Amendments are not even to be put from the Chair; they are not even to be considered or decided by a vote of this House, and this unparalleled, this unprecedented act of tyranny is being carried out because time is wanting for full discussion, not of the Home Rule Bill, but of those other measures which the Government is advised they must do something to promote in order to conceal and confuse the issue before the country. In the course of his long career my right hon. Friend has often exercised an influence which has been fatal to some of those great institutions which from time to time ho has taken under his special protection; this night will consummate and crown his work. To destroy an Empire, to punish England for not having given to him a majority, to break up the Party to which, after all, even his fame and reputation owe a great deal—these are not enough for the First Lord of the Treasury; he must also stifle discussion and humiliate the House of Commons, which has always honoured him as one of its greatest figures. We appeal against the Prime Minister to what is greater and more powerful than he is. We appeal to the country against this political dictatorship, against the policy 667 by which the interests of Great Britain have been surrendered and betrayed, against the tactics by which the House of Commons has been insulted and degraded.
To leave out from the word "That." to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the proposal of the Government to curtail Debate on the Government of Ireland Bill is calculated to degrade the House of Commons to the position of a voting machine, and to deprive the majority in this House of its Constitutional right to discuss a policy by which British interests will be seriously and injuriously affected; and that this House, recognising no necessity for the course proposed by the Government, and believing that it is dictated by motives of Party expediency, declines to accept a Resolution by which the Government arbitrarily claim to limit Debate on a measure of the highest National importance, the greater part of which has already been forced through the stage of Committee without any discussion,"—(Mr. J. Chamberlain,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. S. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
Sir, I ask permission upon this occasion, following immediately after the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us, to say a few words upon this subject, and I promise one thing, and that is that I will not take advantage of this opportunity to make a Third Reading speech, and I will endeavour not to imitate him in heat of language. I will further endeavour not to imitate him in that exhibition of affection for his former Leader and for the great principle of Home Rule, to which he was a convert long before the Prime Minister, and which he has maintained—ah! how faithfully! ever since. I have never concealed from my friends my reluctance to adopt the Closure until a positive and over-mastering necessity for it has arisen. I do not think Closure is the natural weapon of Liberalism. We must always hope to advance our views by discussion. It may be a weapon good enough for those who desire to let things remain as they are, and for their Liberal allies; but it is not a good weapon for those who desire to make new ideas prevail. Another reason which makes mo more chary of setting any example of voting for Closure is that the Liberal Party are unequally matched in this respect. Closure to us at the best 668 means the passing of a measure through this House; with the Conservative Party it means the inscription of a measure on the Statute Book. We have no allies or a majority in another place upon whom we can depend. Moreover, if Closure comes to be frequently and upon too light grounds resorted to, it is quite certain that the laws we pass would lose their sanction, and would cease to be accepted as hitherto they have been by the people. With that reluctance, however, there is one other consideration that must govern, and it is this—that in the last resort it is necessary—absolutely vital—to insure that the will of the majority shall have its wav. If once you break down that, the whole legislative action of Parliament is gone. The right hon. Gentleman has in the most solemn way given his assurance that there never was the least idea amongst Leaders of the Opposition of killing this Bill by time. I am bound to accept that assurance; but will the right hon. Gentleman assure me with the same confidence that there never was any intention to consume the time of the House on this Bill for the purpose of killing other Bills? Our complaint is that, in order to prevent the Government from introducing or 'carrying anything else, time has been so consumed on this Bill that the Government have been taunted that they will not be able to carry any of their measures for the public benefit in an Autumn Session. We shall see. The right hon. Gentleman said that the precedents in 1887 and before for the use of the Closure do not apply to this case. No; and I imagine that there is no conceivable Bill upon which the Closure could be moved that the same argument against its application could not be used. No two Bills ever have been, or ever will be, oil all fours in that respect. But though the precedents are not on all-fours there are other things to be considered. Principles have been laid down by very able exponents of Parliamentary practice, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will find it rather difficult to say that their arguments do not apply in the present case. My right hon. Friend's attitude now is something new. Since I have known the right hon. Gentleman, I have believed that his leaning was to have measures for the benefit of the country fully dis- 669 cussed outside, and then registered after a short discussion in this House. I have been evidently quite mistaken. I do not know whether it made any difference in the view of the right hon. Gentleman that the headquarters of the Caucus migrated from Birmingham to London. Possibly there is something in the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is now in Opposition and that he was then supporting the Government. The right hon. Gentleman claimed that the whole of the Debates on the Bill have been relevant, and the whole of the Amendments in Order. No doubt they have. If they had not been they would have been stopped by the guardian of Order in the Chair—no thanks to my right hon. Friend for that. But a man may never offend against the Order of Debate; his Amendments may be all strictly relevant; he may never incur the censure of the Chair; and ho may, at the same time, be guilty of flat treason against the representative system. My right hon. Friend may hold himself out as the zealous champion of free speech and of liberty of Debate, and the whole time he may be sucking the very lifeblood out of this Assembly. I do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman meant by a British majority. There is no such thing. I only know of one majority. [Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN: The Irish.] I know of no term such as the British majority. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman means the majority of those returned from England. [Mr. J. Chamberlain: And Scotland.] Have they rights superior to those of the Members returned from Ireland? If not, there is no use, as far as this House is concerned, in talking of the British majority. Matters in this House will be decided by the votes of those who are entitled to vote. The right hon. Gentleman said that this proposal degraded Parliament. Did it degrade Parliament in 1887? What does degrade Parliament is unseemly conduct, idleness, and neglect of the public welfare. The corruption of Members, as in times past, degrades Parliament. But all these things can be cured as long as there is a vital energy left in this House which is able to ensure the coming to a decision. But can you picture a lower depth of degradation than a House not instructed by debate, but so overlain by the everlasting flow of words that it fails 670 at last to be able to come to any decision at all? That would be paralysis; that would be the end—the very reason for the existence of this House would be gone. I think it is now time to avert the danger which has threatened the House and to come to its rescue. The right hon. Gentleman says we have no mandate from the country. If at the last Election we had a mandate for anything under the sun it certainly was for Home Rule. [Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN: Which Home Rule?] The right hon. Gentleman says "Which Home Rule?" He knew very well the main outlines, the main features, of the Bill. [Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN made a gesture of dissent.] My right hon. Friend dissents from that. Why, he complained of the exclusion of the Irish Members very skilfully in 1886. The right hon. Gentleman himself was the main cause of the change of attitude on that point. He looked in 1886 like a child crying for the moon, but ho has got his moon, and he is no more satisfied now than ho was then. The only thing that will satisfy the right hon. Gentleman, ardent Home Puller as he is, will be a Home Rule Bill introduced by himself—one that would not provide for Home Rule. This contest has not been a hole-and-corner affair; it has been watched with the keenest interest by the whole country. It has brought Members in larger numbers and kept them in closer attendance than has happened on any question in my recollection. It has excited feeling more deeply than any question in Parliament of late years, even to such a point that in a moment of madness some have forgotten what was due to the great traditions and honour of this House. The right hon. Gentleman even made it a matter of reproach to the Government that some of the Amendments accepted by them have been made at the suggestion of himself and his friends. The conduct of the Bill on the Ministerial side has been mainly in the bauds of half-a-dozen men. [Opposition cheers.] Yes; but the supporters of the Bill were not going to assist gentlemen in consuming time for the purpose of preventing the Government from doing anything else. We have seen in one whose services and years might have well excused him this tremendous labour—we have seen such skill, such energy, 671 such temper displayed in the conduct of the Bill as has compelled the respect of opponents as well as friends, and extorted their admiration. Anil now do hon. Gentlemen really tell the House that they honestly desire more time for the discussion of this Bill? What a shadow of blank dismay would fall upon those Benches if the Prime Minister got up and said that he had changed his mind and would not move this Resolution! The aspect of the House during the last week has not looked as if there is any overweening desire for more time. Would hon. Members themselves say that they would give more than 80 days to the discussion of any measure? Has the House of Commons at any period ever given such a length of time to the discussion of a Bill, however important? Would any Assembly in the world give half the time to it? The answer to every one of those questions must be "No," and therein lies the justification of Her Majesty's Government. I have no doubt when the question is decided you will go down to the country and proclaim the iniquity of the Government. [Mr. JESSE COLLINGS: Hear, hear!] Oh, yes; my right hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division cheers that. He is never tired of tolling us that on leaving this House he will go through the villages. Let him go through the villages. He will go in at one cud of the village and go out at the other, and when he has gone the villagers will be asking themselves the same question as now, and that is—"Why did the Government not do this long ago"? I have not the slightest fear as to what the verdict of the country will be. My right hon. Friend, and those who go with him to the country, I know, will tell the truth; but I want them to tell the whole truth. Do not let them say that there are 26 or 30 pages of Amendments that have not been discussed yet, and that a large portion of this Bill has never been discussed at all, without saying that the House of Commons gave nearly twice as much time to the fair discussion of the Bill as has ever been given before; and if my right hon. Friend will tell the whole truth that way, then I think, Sir, we need not trouble ourselves very much to ask for a reply.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
Mr. Speaker, I am sure that we may welcome the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford in this Debate. My hon. Friend told us he was not going to make a Third Beading speech; and if I recollect rightly the hon. Member—who is one of the oldest Members of this House—has neither made a First Reading nor a Second Beading speech, and I think he has not guided us in the slightest degree in Committee. And why? Because he did not wish to occupy the time of the House. But to-day, when the Government wish for a kind of Constitutional argument, the hon. Member intervenes for the first time in order to prevent "treason," as he says, to representative institutions. This is the occasion when the hon. Member thinks that he must intervene. Those who know him would have thought that the probability was that he would intervene in order to protest against that which, whatever he may say, we, at all events, consider to be the degradation of the House of Commons. The hon. Member pointed with some triumph to the fact that during August the attendance in this House on this Bill has not been as considerable as it might have been, his inference being that the interest taken in the Bill has diminished. I say, on the other hand, that, it is perfectly marvellous that in August there should have been such large Houses during the greater part of the month, and I affirm that such exceptional attendance proves how great an interest is taken in this measure. The hon. Member speaks of the waning interest of the Bill. I will throw out a challenge—ho has made several to us. Let the Government devote the Autumn Sitting to the remainder of this measure instead of to Supply, and then the hon. Member will see whether there is any diminution of interest in this Bill. But the hon. Member is prepared to vote for the Closure, which he detests, rather than have an Autumn Sitting for the continuation of our proceedings on this Bill. That is the extent of his objection. He dealt with some of the arguments of my right hon. Friend; but ho took good care not to reply to the question why it is necessary to complete this measure now. Why do the Government think it necessary? Because they wish to pass other 673 measures, or, rather, to show other measures to the constituencies. Just as at the beginning of this controversy they wasted time in moving Bills as to which there was no belief that they could be passed, so towards the end of it we are again to go through the same process. The Government declare that to pass the Home Rule Bill is an iron necessity. But the iron necessity, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, was not to present this Bill alone to the country—this Bill for which the hon. Member for Bedford said they have a mandate. That is an argument with which hon. Gentlemen opposite are unable to deal. Then, will this Bill satisfy the constituencies? If it represents the union of hearts, if it is the crowning glory of the career of my right hon. Friend opposite, if it is to end the controversies of 100 years, is it not a sufficient present to make to the constituencies? Why do the Government think it insufficient? Because they are aware that the constituencies do not value the Bill as much as they value some of the other Bills which the Government wish to pass. It is hypocrisy to say that there is any iron necessity. The Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Bedford have spoken of the number of days that have been devoted to this Bill, and have asked whether any previous Bill has over occupied anything like the same time. What is the answer? Why, that this is not one Bill, but an assemblage of Bills. I could count, at least, 16 Bills here, every one of which would deserve a month's consideration. The Prime Minister said, on one occasion, that a Bill dealing with the Death Duties would require a whole Session to pass. But upon this Bill, which contains so many different issues, we are not to bestow even a whole Session. The Bill deals with such difficult and complicated subjects as the constitution of a Second Chamber, the relations between the Executives of England and Ireland, the establishment of new Courts, the separation of the Exchequers of England and Ireland, the Land Question, the Irish Civil Service, and the re-constitution of the Constabulary. I do not understand how hon. Members opposite, and such an old Parliamentarian as the hon. Member for Bedford, cannot see that it is impossible to treat a measure of this kind like any other 674 Bill which has ever been before this Parliament. Do they not see that the interlacing of interests between England and Ireland are so close that the whole machinery must be taken to pieces with the greatest care before you can adjust the interests of the one or the other? The hon. Member for Bedford says that there has been everlasting talking. I say, on the contrary, that, speaking generally, the speeches in Committee have been remarkable for brevity, and that the privilege of speaking more than once has been seldom used. The length of the discussion on this Bill is by no means excessive when we examine the vast number of propositions it contains. Hon. Members opposite have not attempted to point out where there has been that waste of time which they allege. I say that as much time has been spent by the Prime Minister and others in personal attacks upon the right hon. Member for West Birmingham as we have spent on the discussion of some Amendments which have been vital to the interests of the country. Another reason why the discussions have been long is found in the frequent alterations that have been made in the Bill. Thus a great deal of time spent on the Second Reading in discussing the finance of the measure was wasted because the financial proposals were afterwards changed; and similarly, in connection with the 9th clause, a, great deal of time was wasted. That is a question upon which we might have been entitled to hear the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford. I think he might have given us his views upon the proposal to put the whole of our Parliamentary proceedings under the control of the Irish Members; but he remained silent on that point, as many other hon. Members on his side of the House, waiting for the signal to be given from the Treasury Bench. And here we can illustrate the methods followed in these Debates. The important speeches made on the Government's own side—such as that of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. R. Wallace), for instance—were left as entirely unanswered and without reply as the speeches that were made on this side of the House. A third reason for the prolongation of these Debates has been the manner in which we have been treated by Her Majesty's Government, and the way in 675 which the Debates have been conducted by them. Sometimes they have been altogether silent when we have asked for explanations. It has been necessary sometimes for four or five of us to rise in succession before we could get any explanation. Then, again, quite unexpectedly and on some minor Amendment, the Prime Minister would rise and make an interesting excursion into old Irish history, or entertain the House by most interesting reminiscences, or make a violent attack upon hon. Members sitting on these Benches, conceived in the style which illustrated the calm temper attributed to him by the hon. Member for Bedford; and in that way the time of the House would again be occupied. I would also point out a very curious fact, and that is this—that whenever the guillotine has been moved, and whenever hon. Members opposite knew the precise point at which it would be reached, there was immediately a commencement of interesting speeches from hon. Members from Ireland and hon. Members opposite. They felt, as we feel, that discussion was necessary, yet they repressed discussion; but whenever an opportunity was given, when, without trenching on the time of the Government they might have their say on the Bill, then many interesting revelations were made. I need only point to what happened within the last two or three days, when there was a most interesting discussion on Irish Universities. Was the time spent upon that wasted? If we had not raised the Amendment, that discussion would not have taken place. Then, again, there was the question of bounties. So soon as we raised the question and the Government made it known that these proceedings were to be brought to an end at a given time, hon. Members on their own side got up and spoke of the danger of bounties being given. I quote this to show the necessity and wisdom of discussion even from the point of view of Her Majesty's Government. Their complaint is that the discussions have been too long. My right hon. Friend called attention to the Amendments that had been accepted, and said that their acceptance had been made a matter of reproach to the Government. Not at all—there has been no reproach in what has been said. What was said was this—that it showed the 676 necessity for discussion. The fact is that it is a crude Bill, and its crudeness has been exhibited during the whole of the proceedings upon it; and hon. Members opposite cannot persuade me that they do not recognise that there must be a strong motive on our part to show the country the character of the problem the Government have proposed, and the character of the solution they propose. We believe that these discussions will, to a large extent, show the insoluble character of the Home Rule problem. No one denies the great ability of the Prime Minister and his colleagues; but what the country will see—and what, perhaps, the agricultural labourers will see—is that the Government, with all their cleverness and with all their resources, have not been able to submit a Bill that will hold water after argument; that so soon as it was argued, even hon. Members from Ireland began to expose the weak points in the Bill; and that it was only by the use of the gag that they are able to meet the arguments of their opponents. Have we not a right to hope that we shall hear the Irish Members on this Bill? Does not the future of the Bill—does not its finality—depend a great deal on the opinion of it held by the Irish Members? It was important, therefore, that we should hear their criticisms; and if the Government have given any sort of intimation to the Irish Members that time should not be spent in discussion, I say they have defrauded the people of the country of the proper opportunities of ascertaining the light in which this Bill would be regarded by them. I say that whether you look at the importance of the Bill, whether you look at the number of the issues contained in it, whether you look at the changes made in the course of our proceedings or at the extraordinary manner in which the Government have thought it right to conduct these discussions, you will find that the responsibility for bringing this discreditable gag upon the House lies at the door of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his supporters. Hon. Gentlemen opposite boast of not having taken part in these discussions. They did not begin to discuss it even in Committee. It was a premeditated conspiracy of silence. It was not that they thought that we were spending too much time on the Bill, and 677 that, therefore, they would refrain from intervention. From the beginning there has been a conspiracy of silence. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford taunts the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings), and says that if ho went through one of the villages to which he alluded from one end to the other the agricultural labourers would not know much of this question. Well, there was a Colleague of the right hon. Gentleman's, the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who made an expedition, not through a village, but through a town, and we do not observe that that journey was so barren of results as the hon. Member for Bedford thinks it will be. We think the country will understand this method of proceeding. Hon. Members opposite seem, many of them, not like the hon. Member for Bedford. The hon. Member for Bedford, at all events, has the feeling to say that he dislikes this Closure, and he told the House that it was a painful moment for him to rise and speak with regard to it; but other hon. Members seem to revel in the composition of the gag. Whether you hold it is our fault, or whether it is yours, at all events we should have thought that those right hon. Gentlemen who have been long responsible for taking a leading part in this House would not like the violent cheers of hon. Members below the Gangway and of their younger supporters behind them, who, perhaps, have whipped them into the necessity of proposing this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said, towards the close of his speech, that this was a question whether the minority should have its way or the majority. He said that was a matter as deeply important even as the Home Rule Bill itself. I am inclined to share that view with him. This proposal, as was shown by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, is made in absolutely different circumstances to that of 1887. This proposal is certainly one of the most momentous ever submitted to Parliament. The Prime Minister said that it was a necessary sequel to the last. I should have thought it possible that the experience of the last step of this sort that he took might have warned him against the present. Are he and his supporters perfectly indifferent to the 678 fact, or do they rejoice in the fact—and, to judge from the cheers with which they met his Motion, they rejoice in it—are they indifferent to the fact that under this proposal it will be impossible to discuss the financial relations between the two countries? Are they glad to escape from the discussion of the 37th clause relating to the laud? Are they glad? They may be glad in one sense, but in another they must feel that they are delivering a blow at the efficiency of Parliament and the morale of Parliament, from which they may never recover. Supposing that it was our precedent which prompted yon to set up this further precedent, then with what terror must we not look upon the future and the further action which may be taken on the strength of the action you initiate to-day, if, in a Bill of this kind, with the question of finance undiscussed, with the question of the land undiscussed, with all these vast questions undiscussed, you are content, though you have the opportunity of an Autumn Sitting before you in which they could be discussed—you are content to impose this gag on the House of Commons to-night? What are we to hope for the future of this Parliament? It is a far greater question than the political issue now between us, grave as that issue is. At that fair play which has always been valued so much throughout the whole of Great Britain and Ireland you are striking a blow from which it may never recover. If Parliament sets such an example it will affect the whole public life of this country. In these strong measures that you are taking to-night I see future political trouble—I see a change in the whole spirit in which public affairs may be approached in every part of the country, unless, indeed, as we hope and believe, the country will condemn you for this step you are taking to-night. They will condemn you for having introduced into Parliament a shivery against which I trust the public will revolt. We, at all events, are prepared to go to the country on such an issue as that. We do not envy our polical opponents at the next Election their cry of "Gladstone and the gag!" I honestly and profoundly sympathise with some of my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. They have been driven into these proceedings. They must feel with me 679 that this new principle may not only affect the Home Rule Party, but may have consequences on the future public life of England which we should all deeply regret. The Government have so little confidence in their Home Rule Bill, especially now that it is to be forced down the throat of the country with the gag, that they cannot—they dare not—go to the country upon it. They dare not spend the Autumn Session upon it, because they must have some other measures which will sweeten the dose the country is asked to swallow. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) said, in the most solemn tones—"I do not know what is the British majority." Of course, he was cheered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt), who always says, when the question of the British majority is brought up—"That is a nice argument to come from you, who are Unionists." Yes; but there is another term which has sometimes entered the ears of the hon. Member, and which certainly ought to have struck the ears of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that is "the Irish majority." If there is no British majority, of course there is no Irish majority. It is the Irish majority to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister always appeals, as having given the decisive and last voice on Home Rule. Homo Rule was determined upon when the Irish majority spoke at the Election of 1886. The British majority, however, is never to be heard alone. We may have as large a majority as we like, but it is always to be tempered by the Irish majority. I ask whether that is reciprocity? Of course, we have ceased to look to the Treasury Bench for any kind of reciprocity in this matter. There does not sit on that Bench a single right hon. Gentleman who ever rises to protest on behalf of the British majority. When they know the British majority is against them they say—"You must throw in our Irish allies." How strange it is that they cannot hear the separate voice of Great Britain when their ears are so open to the separate voice of Ireland! I think that the British majority, when it is brought face to face with the question of the disseverance of the old partnership, the old association, the old union, will say that such disseverance cannot take place without having a ma- 680 jority in its favour in Great Britain as well as in Ireland. The country will not permit this question to be solved simply by a majority which would be a minority if the 80 Irish Members were not included in it. [Ministerial ironical cheers.] Yes, the Irishmen shall have their full voice with us while we remain a united Parliament. The cheering of right hon. Gentlemen opposite induces mo to ask, in the language of the Prime Minister, how must that intellect be constituted which cannot conceive that if the Irish majority counts for something the British majority must also count for something? We do not make the separation. We say, let us all continue to act together. The point, however, I wish to submit to the House is this—that it is the country which must decide between us. You do not wish to take an issue on this Bill, even associated as it is with your changed method of Parliamentary procedure; but our Parliamentary traditions are to be broken in order that the Government may find time to pass other measures on which the majority of their own supporters are not united. You rob us of the necessary time for discussing this Bill, because it would have been perfectly possible to have debated the Bill to the end. I do not believe that you will be forgotten by the country for that which I consider to be the greatest inroad upon Parliamentary liberty which has ever been made by a Government.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) had been good enough to tell Unionists that when they went to the country they ought to be careful to tell not only the truth, but the whole truth. Speaking for himself, he should certainly take the advice tendered by the hon. Member, and he hoped the hon. Gentleman would allow him to tender him a little advice also. On that night week the friends of the hon. Member were engaged in the City of Hereford in circulating a leaflet from house to house declaring in plain black and white that under the Home Rule Bill 80 Irish Members were to be retained, but that they were not to have the power to vote on British subjects. The friends of the hon. Member for Bedford would, therefore, be all the better for a little looking after in matters of this kind. He had 681 another thing to say to the hon. Member for Bedford. The Unionists were not afraid of going to the country on this Bill. The Gladstonian Party, on the other hand, were afraid of discussing it in the country. The best proof he could give of this was that at the recent Hereford election the Gladstonians did not discuss the Bill at all. Directly the son of the Prime Minister appeared on the scene he dragged a Railway Committee three years old across the track in the vain hope of getting some 300 railway votes. The Government maintained that they had a mandate from the country with regard to this Bill. He could understand them saying that the constituencies had the Home Rule Question in the abstract before them at the General Election. Covered up as it was, dodged by many as it was, he was willing to admit that in the abstract the question was more or less before the country at the General Election. If anyone, however, said he had a mandate in favour of the Bill, he (Mr. Russell) was bound to ask in respect of what Bill was the mandate given? The House had had before it two or three Home Rule Bills this Session. Would any British Member say he had received from his constituents a mandate for the subjection of England to the Nationalist Members? There was not a Member in the House who did not know that that was a matter which was incapable of defence on a public platform in Great Britain. If the Government thought they would cram such a monstrous proposition down the throats of the British electors, as they had crammed it down the throat of the House of Commons, they were entirely mistaken. The Prime Minister could gag the House, but he could not gag the electors. Fortunately it was, the country and not the right hon. Gentleman that would have the last word. The argument that the Government had a mandate would not justify them in destroying the liberties of the House of Commons. He wished to refer to the subjects that had been left totally or partially undiscussed in Committee. Clause 5 set up an Executive Authority in Ireland and defined its powers. This was a totally new thing. Grattan's Parliament had no Executive responsible to it, and yet, important as the subject was, it had only received one 682 or two hours' discussion in Committee. Clause 6 defined the constitution of the two Houses of the Irish Legislature. Not a word had been said in regard to that clause. Clause 9 provided for the representation of Ireland in the Imperial Parliament. That clause, which he ventured to call the "subjection of England Clause," and which was a perfect revolution in itself, was passed after six hours of discussion, having previously been kept secret. Clauses 10 to 20 contained the financial proposals of the Bill. Hon. Members all knew their history, frequently they had been altered, and how slightly they had been discussed. Clauses 20 and 21 dealt with the transfer of the Postal and Savings Banks Service, and had not had a word of discussion. Clauses 22 and 23 sot up a Supreme Court for the decision of Constitutional questions. That was a tiling which had never before been done in the history of this country, and yet it had been passed without a syllable of discussion. Clause 24 opened the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to Roman Catholics, and ought to have been discussed. Clauses 30 to 41 contained miscellaneous and transitory provisions, many of them of great importance, including the reservation of the Land Question to the Imperial Parliament for three years. The Land Question lay at the bottom of the whole Irish trouble, and yet the clause had been passed without a word of discussion. Seven Schedules had also been rushed through the House without discussion. One of them was a Reform Bill in itself. He ventured to tell the Prime Minister that no greater outrage had ever been perpetrated upon any people than that for which the right hon. Gentleman was responsible in regard to the Second Schedule.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, it was quite true that he had brought forward a Schedule. Would the right hon. Gentleman give him time to discuss it? He would tell the right hon. Gentleman what his (Mr. Russell's) proposal was, and what was the Government proposal. 683 The right hon. Gentleman had declared his anxiety to give the Irish minority fair play in every way, and to protect them as much as possible. The Government Schedule would leave the Irish minority in this House represented by 14 or 15 seats out of 80. ["Oh, oh!"] Let the hon. Member for North Kerry take up the Schedule and examine it for himself?
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I say that from that you may calculate that the Unionist representation would be 14 or 15.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, that if it were in Order he could show that the Schedule would give a representation of 14 or 15. His (Mr. Russell's) Schedule would have abolished the representation of the wretched Nationalist boroughs of Newry, Galway, and Kilkenny—
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, he did not mean that the boroughs themselves were wretched, but that the constituencies were wretched in point of numbers as compared with the counties. The right hon. Gentleman had carefully given three Members to each of the counties in the South of Ireland with 20,000 electors, whilst he reduced the number of Members for Northern Counties with 26,000 electors—
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, it was because it had been impossible on every occasion to discuss the Schedule that he was tempted to violate what he knew to be the Rule of Order in the matter. At any rate, he ventured to say that the Prime Minister in forcing the Schedule through the House without a word of debate had been guilty of one of the greatest outrages ever perpetrated upon Ireland. He did not care what the right hon. Gentleman called his Schedule. He had the whole of the Protestant population of Ulster behind him in the matter; and so long as he had that, he cared little for what the right hon. Gentleman thought of his language. That was the position they were in at the present moment. And what was all this done for? Was it because there was any urgency for the Bill? Why, in the very text of 684 the measure it was provided that it was not to come into operation until September 1,1894. What was the hon. Member for Bedford so anxious about? Did he desire the Local Veto Bill to come on—a Bill which he (Mr. Russell) approved of, but in connection with which he could not help noticing the accustomed methods of the Government. They were going to the country with a cry of local option, but they were bringing in the Irish Members to coerce the people of England—it might be, to deny them their right of local option. These things were done for Party expediency. The Government knew that their Home Rule Bill would not carry them through the General Election, and they desired to pad out their case with other measures. That, and that alone, was the cause of these extraordinary proceedings by which the liberties of Englishmen were being destroyed, and precedents were being set up which the Party in power would live to regret. Ho protested against the Bill, and against the procedure by which it was being thrust through the House. Ho maintained that that procedure was unprecedented. It was useless to say that the procedure on the Crimes Act of 1887 was a precedent for the present procedure. The precedent did not lie in a single particular. As a matter of fact the Bill was being pressed on not because it was required by the people of England, but in the attempt to rush through other measures which would have a better chance of keeping the Members of the present Government on the Front Ministerial Bench.
§ *SIR G. CHESNEY (Oxford)
said, that hitherto he had but seldom intervened in this Debate which had been conducted with so much efficiency on the Opposition side of the House; but as a private Member he should like to be allowed, in discharge of his duty to his constituents, to record his protest against the manner in which the voting upon the Report stage of the Bill was being forced upon the House. The present attitude of the Prime Minister showed how rapid was the course of political degeneracy when once an evil path was entered upon. The wonder to him was that the indignation which so many private Members felt at the high-handed action of the Government was not more 685 loudly expressed than it had been. As a new Member, he sometimes found it hard to think that they were sitting in the famous House of Commons, the birthplace of liberty and free Debate. When he saw the course pursued by the Prime Minister he asked himself whether this was, indeed, to be the outcome of 250 years of free Debate—that this Bill, which had been thrown before them with hardly a word of explanation, with all its complicated, confusing, and often contradictory clauses, should be pushed through on a specified night, while a great part of it still remained without any discussion or Debate whatever. As a precedent for his proposal the Prime Minister ventured to refer to the Crimes Act of 1887; but to say that what was done in connection with that Act was any precedent for what was being done now was simply to trifle with the intelligence of the House. The Crimes Bill was a short, simple measure. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mundella) laughed. Well, the measure was a simple one. It was framed to deal with one particular class of crime, and, moreover, before the Closure was introduced all the essential clauses of the Bill have already been passed. The Closure was only introduced when there was most obvious and plain obstruction in connection with the details of the Bill, which were really of no essential importance. [Laughter.] Yes; but what was the case with the present measure? Every clause was a Bill in itself, and to pass any one of them without fair Debate and discussion was a great Constitutional revolution; nothing less. But, nevertheless, it was the will of the Prime Minister; therefore, that was the procedure adopted by a small and unwilling, and certainly very uneasy, majority. Take only one clause—that under which the Irish Members were to come back in full power, if not in full numbers, to the Imperial Parliament. It brought about an entire change in the character of the Bill. Not only that, but the whole of the financial arrangements had been entirely changed since the Bill was first introduced. Possibly the supporters of the Prime Minister might find comfort in believing that the political degeneracy observable in the Government extended to the people, and that, therefore, the latter 686 were prepared to accept a demagogue Dictator. But it was the solace of the Opposition to believe that a very different issue would arise. For his own part, ho believed that the English people were slow to withdraw their confidence when it had once been given; but when they found out that they had been misled and deceived; that the measure which was passing through the House was an altogether different one from that which had been put before the country, and that, so far from getting rid of the Irish Question, and being able to turn their attention to all the pressing reforms which had been so long neglected, they would still have the Irish Question before them, in a new, and more acute, and more embittered form, he believed that they would execute judgment upon those who had abused their trust. He hoped and believed that then they would get rid of Home Rule for ever. Home Rule would be looked upon as a bad dream. But what would be the effect upon the political future of the country—would the House of Commons recover from this degradation? This was by no means equally certain; and, therefore, in this last act of the Constitutional drama—rather he would say of this political farce—ho desired to puton record an expression of his dislike for the proposal of the Government, and an expression of opinion that the verdict of the House and of posterity in the long run would be that no one had done more than the present Prime Minister to degrade the House of Commons and to bring Parliamentary Institutions into contempt.
§ MR. BODKIN (Roscommon, N.)
said, he would wish to remind the House of the remarks of a great statesman and great orator whom they had heard that day. He wished to appeal from Philip Tory to Philip Radical—he presumed it would be unparliamentary to use another Christian name. He wished to remind them of a speech delivered in 1885 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) under somewhat similar circumstances, but when there was no such suggestion of obstruction as on the present occasion. The right hon. Gentleman then said— 687By the abuse of its Rules and of the liberty of free speech this great historic Assembly has been reduced to a condition of impotence and inability for which we ought to find an immediate remedy. When this great implement of the national will is rendered powerless the whole of our Constitutional system is brought into discredit, and it would be of very little use for us to plume ourselves on the reforms in the representation that we have just accomplished, if, after all, Parliament is not to regain its full power over its own Debates and its own legislation.Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to speak of obstruction by the House of Lords; but bearing in mind Mr. Speaker's ruling in connection with that question, he (Mr. Bodkin) would not quote the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in that connection. The right hon. Gentleman, however, concluded—Obstruction, whether in the House of Lords or in the House of Commons, plays the game of the Tories.That was as true, or more true now than it was then, and the right hon. Gentleman who now declaimed against the Closure was the gentleman who advocated it so strongly. He had not the exact reference to this speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but it was delivered in 1885, and the right hon. Gentleman and his friends would be able to identify it by certain expressions. It was in that speech that he alluded tothe oracular persons who sit on the fence and slang the man at the plough.It was in that speech also that he alluded to the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer as "the skeleton of the Egyptian feast," and as "being more Tory than the Tories themselves." Possibly those more candid views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham might have some effect on the minds of the Tories who now followed his guidance in the House of Commons. They were told that 1887 was no precedent for the present case. It was not an exact precedent, but it was a precedent that not merely covered but overlapped the present case. If the implement was good enough to take away the liberties of the people in 1887, it was good enough to restore them now. A man was once attacked by another with a life preserver and knocked down. He got up again, however; took the weapon from his assailant, and struck him in return with it, when the latter exclaimed that it was a shame to strike a 688 poor fellow with a thing like that. The Closure was a weapon forged by Tory hands, and it could not now be helped if they did not like the taste of their own medicine. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, in a moment of unusual candour, had himself admitted that the Bill might have been discussed in an ordinary Session if he and his friends had not been irritated. The right hon. Gentleman himself was responsible for the irritation. There had been ample time to discuss the Bill fairly. The function of the House of Commons was to give effect to the will of the people, who had declared in favour of an Irish Legislature, with an Executive dependent upon it. The question was whether they were to be permitted to carry out this mandate, or whether the time of the House was to be wasted with the eloquence which had flowed so freely, and which, if permitted, like the brook in Tennyson's poem, would have flowed on "for ever" from the Tory Benches?
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
said, that as he had had the honour of being just returned to the House with an undoubted mandate, he thought it was not unlikely that his constituents would like him to inform the House what that mandate was. He had listened with attention to the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. S. Whitbread), and he was pleased to notice that the hon. Member still pursued the course he used to follow when he (Mr. Cooke) was in the House before, and threw the glamour of his respectability over matters of doubtful character. The hon. Member had challenged the right hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Colliugs) to go through the villages and test the opinion of the inhabitants on Home Rule. Well, he himself had just been through the villages—for Hereford was more or less a county constituency; he had had to canvass the villages, and the answer that he got from the inhabitants of Hereford and the surrounding villages was that they would have nothing whatever to do with the Bill. But he had learned something more. He had learned that the opinion of those who had stated in the House to-night that the country had not been fully informed what the real nature of Home Rule was at the General Election was the true one. The late Member for Hereford, whose seat he (Mr. 689 Cooke) so unworthily filled, did not know, and the electors who voted for him did not know, what was the nature of the Prime Minister's Home Rule. It was only since discussion had taken place in the House—discussion which had never been permitted in the country—that the electors of his and other constituencies had come to know what the scheme was, and now that they knew what it was they did not like it at all. The hon. Member for Bedford had taunted the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham with speaking of the British electors, and himself professed to be unable to distinguish between British and other Representatives; but he should have asked his great Leader the Prime Minister to teach him, for in 1885 that right hon. Gentleman had said that there was this distinction between British and Irish votes—that the votes of British Representatives ought to be independent of the votes of the Irish Representatives. If there was no difference, why did the right hon. Gentleman draw a distinction between them on that occasion? He was not going to trouble the House with any lengthy observations now, but he wished to say that it had struck him in the course of the Debate that if the Bill engrossed the attention of the people as deeply as the supporters of the Government claimed it was strange that they should find it necessary to bolster it up with a great number of other measures. Why did not the Government go to the country and say that this Bill was the measure of the Session, and one of first-rate importance, altering, as it did, the Constitution of this country? The Bill was one which ought to be discussed at enormous length in the House of Commons. It was a Bill which ought to occupy the time of Parliament for a whole Session. Surely it could not be said that a Bill altering the Constitution of the country in a way that this Bill altered it was not a measure of the first magnitude. If they had devoted a whole Session to the Bill in a straightforward way an Autumn Session would not have been required. Members representing the labouring classes, railway servants, and so on, were all desirous of bringing forward Bills affecting their interests, and those measures were to be brought forward at an Autumn Sitting. Surely 690 if the matter had been plainly put before those hon. Members they would have consented to hold back their smaller interests in deference to the greater one of Home Rule. But the right hon. Gentleman knew that neither the constituencies nor his followers cared for the Bill, and, therefore, he had to supplement it with various other measures. The hon. Member for Bedford referred to the possible action of the House of Lords. He had said that when the Tories were in Office they could apply the Closure with effect, as the measures to which it was applied would be invariably passed by the House of Lords. Well, it occurred to him (Mr. Cooke) that there were hon. Members opposite who were looking forward with a great deal of hope to the House of Lords. Their want of independence had been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. They were longing for a more independent Body to do what they would not do for themselves; and then, when that independent Body had saved the Empire, those same hon. Members would turn round and denounce it, and say they were going to mend it or end it.
§ *MR. T. D. SULLIVAN (Donegal, W.)
said, the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) had been speaking about the Prime Minister bringing 80 Irish Members into the House of Commons. Were the Irish Members not there at the present time, and what brought the Irish Members at all to the Imperial Parliament? The Act of Union brought them there, and if the Act of Union remained and continued as it now stood 80 Irish Members, and more, would continue to be in the Imperial Parliament. Why speak, then, of the Prime Minister bringing 80 Irish Members into the Imperial Parliament, as if there were no Irish Members there at present, and as if Irish Members were not to continue to remain there whether they had Homo Rule or not? If there were to be 80 Irish Members in the Imperial Parliament, and there was to be no Home Rule, he should like to know where the relief was to come from? The relief would come in if Homo Rule were granted to Ireland, because, although they would still have the right to return 80 Members, his belief was—and he had no reason to doubt it was the belief of 691 every Irishman who know anything about Ireland—that the Imperial Parliament would not be troubled, except upon very rare occasions indeed, with the presence of the Irish Members. The rejection of Home Rule would mean that the Irish Members would continue to be here early and late, day and night, and would stick to their work. He did not want to indulge in any threat or menace; but he might say that if the Irish Members had to remain in the Imperial Parliament after the rejection of Home Rule, the action which they might be disposed to take under such conditions would not tend to the smooth progress of legislation.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The future action of the Irish Members, so far I can see, has nothing to do with the Resolution before the House.
§ *MR. T. D. SULLIVAN
said, he would not refer to that matter further; but his point was that, Homo Rule or no Home Rule, the Irish Members would continue to remain in the Imperial Parliament. Ho believed that they had in Ireland the right to look alter their own affairs—
§ *MR. T. D. SULLIVAN
said, he would not pursue that point; but when they were told that there was an Irish majority in that House, they should remember that this was an Imperial question, and that they had a right to speak and vote upon it as such. He would remind hon. Members who wished to separate nationalities in this way that for many years Irish questions had been decided by British majorities. Many very useful measures had been brought in by the Irish Members and had been rejected by British majorities. As to the appeals to outside opinion, he know something of the English electors, and ho looked with absolute confidence to the result of the next General Election. He said for the Irish Members—and the Liberal Members could say it for themselves—that they believed the English people were in favour of the great measure now before the House. He relied upon the British people. It was said they did not vote upon Home Rule. The implication was that Home Rule was objectionable to the great mass of the British electors. That was not so. It was not objectionable, but the electors 692 claimed, and fairly claimed, that they should do something more than pass a Homo Rule Bill before going to a General Election. The Government were alive to the fact that they were returned not simply on Home Rule, but on Home Rule and other questions. They had a mandate for that, but they had a mandate for the other things as well, and it was their duty to do their utmost to fulfil that mandate, and they wore going, he hoped, to do so, so far as it was possible to do it. Having done that—having dealt with other useful and necessary measures—they could then go to the constituencies, who, he believed, would send them back there with renewed and re-invigorated powers to complete the great work committed to them.
§ *SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
said, he did not think that it was necessary to follow the hon. Member opposite (Mr. T. D. Sullivan) in his experiences of the feelings of the British electors. The hon. Gentleman had not always entertained the very high opinion of England and the English which he now felt himself able to express.
§ *SIR J. GOLDSMID
said, however that might be, he was anxious to say a few words on a more important matter. Ho had often listened with pleasure and pride to the speeches of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. S. Whitbread), but he had heard him that evening with shame and regret. The hon. Member had hitherto always stood up for free speech in that House; to-night ho bad risen to support a very different policy. There was no precedent for the course the Government were taking. The Bill before the House altered the whole Constitution, not only of Ireland, but that of England and Scot-laud as well. They had had no such Bill as this since 1800, and no such measures were adopted on that occasion. Then they were told there was a precedent in the case of a Bill to put down crime. To say that the procedure on a Bill for the suppression of crime was a precedent in this case was to put honest, straightforward citizens on the level of criminals. The Prime Minister ought to go to the country now as he did in 1886, if his Bill were rejected by the House of Lords. That was the real precedent. But the right hon. Gentleman knew that 693 his Bill would not be approved by the country, and therefore he wished to prepare some legislative sugar-plums to sweeten the dose to the electors. He (Sir J. Goldsmid) had had opportunities in many parts of the country of ascertaining the feeling of the English electors; he knew something more about the English electors than the hon. Member who had just spoken. He knew that the one thing which they prized above all others was the free speech once enjoyed in the House of Commons. The people of England would never accept the Bill; but, at any rate, the Government would not gain by their policy of Closure, which set up a precedent that would be most injurious in the future of Parliamentary procedure. The hon. Member for Bedford used to have a doubt upon these questions; but he had now laid down the doctrine that the Government had the right to say how much time was to be spent on the discussion of each of the measures they submitted to Parliament. This Bill, the hon. Member told them, had occupied more time than any other Bill. He (Sir J. Goldsmid) was not surprised that it had occupied more time than any other measure. One of the Schedules was in itself a Reform Bill; and ho remembered a Reform Hill—it was a small, but a very important one—the Ballot Act,—which took up two whole Sessions, and he said the Bill was a better one as agreed to in the second Session than it was in the first. Again, this Bill raised the question of establishing a high Constitutional Court; and such a new principle, so widespread and far-reaching in its effects, if adopted at all, should only be adopted after most careful consideration. In America there was a method of preventing any great Constitutional change, and there was also a method of a two-thirds majority. Therefore, ho repeated, they should have full opportunity for discussion of this measure. For himself, he had taken very little part in the Debates. He had spoken only twice on the Committee stage of the Bill, though he had been present throughout the discussion, and he had never heard a Bill discussed with more care to avoid repetition and to keep to the point before the Committee. Every clause of the Bill raised many questions, and every clause should have been properly considered. They should have had liberal 694 discussion. It was not unreasonable that in such a case any course open to the Government should have been considered. It would, he thought, have been only reasonable that the Government should have brought in the Bill at the beginning of the Session, and had it discussed from day to day. But they hampered the proceedings of the House by introducing many other Bills included in the Newcastle Programme, in order to get credit with the electors. The Resolution already passed at the instance of the Government had seriously injured the Government and the House of Commons, and this one would do so all the more, because it came from the Prime Minister—he who used to be the proud defender of British liberties, but who had come to this! His descent must be bitterly regretted by his admirers past and present. The hon. Member for Bedford said that, because the attendance in the House was somewhat slack last week, the "gag" was justified. The hon. Member did not mention that last week was the hottest week of the year. Ho himself spent two-thirds of the time on the Terrace, because the atmosphere of the House was so oppressive. It would be discreditable to the House of Commons if this Gagging Resolution were adopted, and ho hoped that even at that eleventh hour the Government would determine not to press it upon a powerful and a reluctant minority.
§ MR. W. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
said, he had considered very carefully the reasons given by the Government for forcing this Motion upon the House. He did not for one moment deny that circumstances might arise when it might be necessary that a Resolution of this kind should be adopted, in order that the measures of the Government might be pressed forward and have fair play. But he took it that, unless they wore prepared to sacrifice all freedom of debate, they were not willing that any Minister should be allowed to make a proposal of the kind without giving reasons for his action and showed justification for it. It was said that precedent was justification. He thought they wanted a great deal more than precedent. They ought to have facts to justify the course they were taking. There might be a precedent which it was not desirable to follow, and each case, he 695 thought, ought to be judged on its own merits. But there was no precedent for this proceeding. The Crimes Act of 1887 had been mentioned; but they had heard nothing, so far as the Debate had gone, to show that there was any analogy beween the two cases. What were the circumstances of 1887? The Bill then before the House was a small procedure Bill. Crime was at the time triumphant in Ireland. The criminal classes and secret associations were triumphing over the Government and defying them. Large classes of the people were suffering as a result of this; and juries could not be got to find verdicts owing to the intimidation that prevailed. Therefore, it was necessary for the Government to take some measures to strengthen the hands of those who were responsible for the administration of the law. The fact was that the Bill brought in on that occasion was a very simple Bill, dealing with a very simple matter—giving the Magistrates certain power to deal with crimes of a certain character, without going to juries. Well, the Bill was introduced; then they had most flagrant obstruction, but 30 or 35 days were occupied before the Closure was necessary. They had a small minority, making speech after speech, moving no genuine Amendments, but very obstructive Amendments. But even the Closure, as then applied, differed widely from the Closure as adopted by the present Government. If the Closure had not then been adopted they never would have been able to get that Bill through at all, and the result would have been that crime in Ireland would have gone on triumphing over the authority of the Government and of Parliament. Those were the circumstances of 1887. He asked any Member was there any analogy to the present occasion? In the first place, they had the necessity of getting through a very simple Bill—it was alleged there were one or two new crimes in it; he did not know, but, at all events, it was a very simple Bill, and ho asked could anyone say that it was a Bill to be in any way compared to this one? It was rightly said by the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) that there were as many as 14 Bills in the present Bill. He had endeavoured to bring to mind any Bill that was so important as this that 696 ever was before the House, and he could not think of any Bill to compare with it. Those were the circumstances under which they had to deal with it. If there was obstruction, they were, at least, in a different position from that of 1887. But there had been no obstruction. They had had, in the discussions on this Bill, the application of the Closure with very great freedom, but there had been no objection. They on that (the Opposition) side could not, of course, always undertake to stop the fluency of hon. Members around them; but the Government would remember that where there had been Closure they had allowed it to be carried without a Division. What was perfectly plain was that the Government had not realised the real difficulty of the Bill which they had introduced. He did not think the Prime Minister would venture to say there had been obstruction in the course of the Debates. It was a matter of opinion, but ho (Mr. Ambrose) had seen no obstruction whatever. He had seen Amendments moved—he had moved some himself. He thought those that he had moved were necessary. They had fairly and honourably done their duty in bringing forward these Amendments, and he must deny the charge of obstruction. He moved an Amendment the other day which he bad attempted to bring up in Committee, but it was then ruled out of Order; he explained the merits of his Amendment, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. J. Morley) thought it consistent with his duty to charge him with the modesty of his appearance! The Amendment he moved would be the main point before the country at the General Election. He spoke for 100,000 people—for 14,000 electors—and because he occupied half-an-hour on that Amendment ho was told he was to be congratulated on the modesty of his appearance! Evidently the right hon. Gentleman thought Members on the Opposition side had no right to speak at all. But they were only doing their best to give effect to their Amendments. What would be the result of the course the Government were now taking? He asked right hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider what it would be. Did the Prime Minister think be was going to gain by gagging the House of Commons? What was the fact? This Resolution 697 would destroy the character of the House of Commons as a deliberative Assembly. They must remember that if they gagged the House of Commons they could not gag the House of Lords. They would have this Bill before them, and, in proportion as the Government degraded this House and destroyed its power to deliberate—as a deliberative Assembly—in such proportion they increased the power of the House of Lords. What was the reason that the House of Lords had not hitherto been able to hold out against the House of Commons? Because of the confidence of the people in the Commons, and its freedom and independence in matters of deliberation. But by carrying this Resolution they made the House of Lords—the First Estate in the Realm—more powerful. The hon. Member who spoke a short; time previously (Mr. T. D. Sullivan) said the Government desired to pass other Bills as well as the Home Rule Bill, and he charged the Opposition with having talked against this Bill in order to prevent other Bills being passed. But surely they had a right to protest against any attempt on the part of the Government to bring in a number of Bills for the mere purpose of catching votes, or for show purposes. The object of the Government, of course, was clear. They could not get a mandate from the country for Home Rule pure and simple, and they therefore wanted to create a conglomeration of interests. But the Opposition were opposed to a scratch majority for Home Rule being obtained by these means. The voice of the nation spoke in 1831 in favour of the Reform Bill pure and simple; and if the electors of this country were to give an equally direct and unequivocal mandate in favour of the present measure of Home Rule, the Opposition, both in that House and in the House of Lords, would have to bow to it; they would be bound to yield to the will of the people. But they were not bound to yield to what was really a scratch vote secured at the General Election, a vote given upon the various questions with which Home Rule was intermixed—upon Local Veto, Parish Councils, and various other subjects. He implored the House to consider its present position. He did not deny that there might be a cause for the Closure, but he could not justify the claim put 698 forward on the part of the Government to prevent the Amendments of the Opposition being put when the Division came on. That was a most unreasonable piece of work. Why should the Government have their Amendments put from the Chair and prevent the Amendments of Members of the Opposition being put, as well as being spoken upon? He could understand the reason. It was to prevent some of their own supporters from so acting as to reduce the majority. But the device would not deceive the electorate, and the House of Lords would never pass a Bill which had been forced through the House of Commons by a tyranny unknown before in the history of tills country, and, he hoped, never to be again experienced.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
said, he wished to enter his protest against this revolutionary, gagging, and degrading Resolution, for which not the slightest ground had been made out. The Prime Minister, in moving it, had not even hinted at direct obstruction, but the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. S. Whit-bread) had suggested that there had been indirect delay. He ventured to say that if there had been any delay at all that had been on the part of Ministers themselves, who had not endeavoured to economise time.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, the delay had been caused by Ministers themselves. This was the first Bill that had ever gone through the Committee stage in which no single Member who had moved an Amendment had even made a second speech upon it. In Committee it was usual for the Business to be conducted in a conversational manner, and Members often spoke two or three times on the same Amendment, but that had not occurred in this instance. The Government themselves by their action had not endeavoured to economise time by accepting necessary Amendments. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) on the 2nd clause moved an Amendment in regard to the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament, and the Government accepted it in principle, but only after a long Debate.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I was perfectly ready to accept that Amendment at 8 o'clock, but I could not get an answer from my right hon. Friend.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, that no doubt the right hon. Gentleman accepted it in principle at 7 o'clock, and the only question was where the Amendment should be introduced. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) came to the rescue of the Government, and suggested that it should be inserted in the 2nd clause on the understanding that on the Report stage it should be transferred to the 1st clause, and the result was that that was only agreed to after a discussion lasting from 8 o'clock until midnight.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
The whole view of the Government was stated long before 8 o'clock. The delay was entirely owing to the Opposition.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, the difficulty of the Government had been that while they accepted the principle of Amendments they could not make up their minds as to words
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, the fact remained that a suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin was accepted at midnight when it might have been accepted four hours earlier. Then there was a second Amendment as to the suspension of habeas corpus, on which at least two hours was wasted by the delay of the Government in making up their minds; and a further instance was to be found in the action of Ministers in reference to bills of exchange, on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that great financial authority—gave the House advice which the Law Officers of the Crown later on controverted. He therefore submitted that the Government had no right to complain of what they called indirect delay. The hon. Member for Bedford had stated that if one person was responsible more than any other for the retention of the Irish Members at Westminster it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. Could anything be more absurd? Why, it was not until after he had both spoken and voted for their total exclusion that the Prime Minister came down to the House and declared that he intended to retain them for all purposes. The Government would have to accept the entire responsibility for Clause 9. This was the second 700 time they had come forward with a proposal to stifle the voice of the Representatives of the people. Freedom of Debate had been one of the most cherished rights of Parliament since the time of Henry VIII. It was a very curious coincidence that the gag should have been moved at exactly the same point in the Bill both in Committee and on Report—namely, previous to the 5th clause. But that was easily explainable. The Government did not object to discussion on the first four clauses, because they knew that the clauses which would not be discussed would render those that were absolutely nugatory. No such Bill had ever been submitted to Parliament during the present century. It was a most comprehensive Bill—an Omnibus Bill. It reminded one of a ton of compressed hay, and it might be said to contain at least seven compartments of clauses, each of which was comprehensive enough to be made a separate Bill. There was the first compartment of four clauses, which were rendered absolutely nugatory by the 5th clause. The second compartment—the 5th clause—was sufficient for a Bill in itself, for it dealt with the power of the Executive. The third compartment—the 6th, 7th, and 8th clauses—constituted a Reform and Redistribution Bill; then there was the 9th clause, which the English people never would submit to; next, there were the Financial Clauses, which had never been discussed by the House; then there were the Land Clauses, sufficient for a Bill in themselves; and, lastly, there were the Schedules, not one of which had been discussed in any shape or form. It was said the other night (hat the handwriting was on the wall. Since the Bill was introduced the Leader of the House had had three opportunities of appealing to the people. The electors of Grimsby, of Linlithgow, and of Hereford had given a decided answer which entitled the House to discuss the Bill in every shape, and the Government had no right to silence the Opposition by means of the gag. Was it to be supposed that any Second Chamber in the world, much less an ancient Second Chamber like the House of Lords, would for one moment entertain the idea of passing a Bill of which only about one-tenth part had been discussed in that House? They could not prevail against a majority in that House, 701 but they could protest against that House being degraded, and they could declare what had been the policy of the Government—namely, a policy of concealment and gag. He believed the country would respond to that appeal, and that the Government would find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not far wrong when he said that the Government which stewed in Parnellite juice would stink in the nostrils of the country.
§ MR. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
said, that the only Irish Member who had intervened in the Debate was singularly unfortunate in his quotations from a speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham—words which the right hon. Gentleman never used; and be had admitted that he was unable to say when and where the speech was delivered, or in what paper it had been published. The most important speech delivered in support of the proposal of the Prime Minister had been that of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. S. Whitbread), who had contended that the will of the majority should be allowed to prevail. But the point to he borne in mind was that the Home Rule Bill was not desired by the majority of the people of Great Britain; it had simply been brought in because the majority of the Irish people desired it. The hon. Gentleman suggested that many of the Amendments which had been proposed were irrelevant. But he ventured to submit that every Amendment brought forward had been absolutely necessary, and it was to be remembered that none of the salient points of the Bill were before the constituencies at the last Election. What were the salient points of the Home Rule Question? The first was the composition of the Imperial Parliament, the second the composition of the Irish Parliament, the third the power of Irish Members in both Houses of Parliament, and the fourth the question of finance. Yet not one of these points was clearly before the constituencies at the time of the last General Election; and he believed that if the electors had been told that it was intended to keep 80 Irish Members in the Imperial Parliament for all purposes, and if they had known that the Government in the course of the Debate would change 702 their minds on the financial question two or three times, very few Members pledged to such an absurd Homo Rule would have been returned to Parliament. But it was suitable that the Closure should be proposed at the present time, because it was just what had been done in Committee. It would prevent these difficult questions from being discussed at all. The gravest and most important questions were those of finance and the land. They were questions, they were told, which would be settled by this Imperial Parliament. Certainly, they understood that the Land Question would be settled before the landlords were handed over to an Irish Legislature. But this Resolution would prevent the discussion of those questions. They were asked by the Prime Minister whether this House had ever given so much time to a Bill. The answer to that was—Had the House ever before had under consideration such a Bill as this? The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), whose position and influence as a Radical they all knew, had declared that there were 20 Bills contained in it. That being so, where did the analogy come in? There had been no discussion on i the Schedules. The hon. Member for North Kerry (Mr. Sexton) spoke of 15 Unionists being returned to the Upper Chamber in Ireland.
§ MR. RENTOUL
said, he was glad to have that admission. The Unionists would be in a minority still, for they would have only 20 out of 48. Then they were referred to the Rules made for Closure in 1887. The facts at that time were totally different. The Act then before the House was a small and simple one dealing with a point that was very briefly dealt with in this Bill—that of habeas corpus. The Government of that day had a majority of 98. This Government had a majority only of 38. The Resolution of the former Leader of the House, the late Mr. W. H. Smith, was passed by a majority of 152, or 22 per cent, of the whole House. The former Resolution of the present Government was passed by 32, or 5 per cent. They knew that Mr. Smith's majority was composed of British votes, and that the present majority—the majority on the last Resolution of this character—was not, for there was on 703 that vote a majority of 19 British votes against the Government. So that if the question were dealt with as Mr. Smith dealt with it, there would be a majority against the Government. Therefore the case was totally different. If, again, they took the stages of the Bill closured by Mr. Smith—his majority on the votes on First and Second Readings, on the four most important clauses, and on the Report stage and Third Reading—his highest majority was 162, and his average was 117 over the entire majorities on that occasion, whereas the Prime Minister's majority on all the important questions on this Bill stood at about 40. He therefore applied the Closure by a majority of 40, and that majority included the Irish Members. The Home Rule Bill as printed had 1,495 lines, 1,164 of which had not been dealt with. They had only dealt with 331 lines; and of those 331, 155 had been substituted for those originally introduced. The Government had admitted that those 155 as they stood when introduced were pure nonsense, and that they required to have others substituted in order to make sense at all. If they (the Opposition) had succeeded in showing that 153 lines of the Bill required alteration—that they were utter folly, and that others should be substituted—they only required time to put their case before the House and the country to make it stronger than it now was. It was remarkable to notice the opinions that were held by some of the Prime Minister's supporters on this point. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had said in the columns of Truth that the Closure in this instance was one of those measures which might be enthusiastically cheered by certain persons, but that it was a measure that more moderate people would rather not see used at all; and The Irish Independent newspaper—the Independent Party having nine Members in the House, a Party which would be 29 if they had proportional representation in Ireland—took even a worse view of the matter, for in its issue of 14th July it said that a serious consideration arose, that yet another substantial portion of the Bill had been passed without Debate, and, possibly, without amendment. The Independent went on to say—That may be pleasing to the Tories, but it is not satisfactory to the Irish people.704 Therefore, they saw that one section of the Irish people—men of great intelligence and independence—did not regard this as a satisfactory way of dealing with the Bill, and thought it was highly dangerous that this Bill should become law without discussion or amendment. They had had it from every part of the House—they had had it from prominent Leaders of the House and from the Irish Party—that the very strongest protest should be entered against the action that had been taken by the Government. This was not an ordinary Bill; it was not a Crimes Bill. It was one affecting the whole liberties of the people of Ireland—one dealing with a great change in the Constitution of the country upon which the Empire had been built up, and one that ought to be discussed stage by stage. If necessary another Session should be devoted to making the Bill at least one that would hold water—that would be reasonable—instead of having the measure hustled through in this manner by the Prime Minister and those who supported him. It was upon these grounds that the Amendment had been brought forward, and upon those grounds it would receive the support of everyone on that (the Opposition) side of the House.
§ *MR. THORNTON (Clapham)
said, that since he spoke on the First Reading of the Bill he had not ventured to address the House on the question of the government of Ireland; but during that period he had had the opportunity of very carefully watching and listening to the Debates that had taken place, and the result of his careful observation was that upon his conscience he believed on that side of the House there could not be said to have been the least obstruction. The Debate upon each clause of the Government of Ireland Bill had brought forward new points which the Government themselves had acknowledged by the numerous Amendments that had been accepted by the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Nobody placed, as he had been, in the position of a careful observer during the discussions upon the Bill could have come to any other conclusion than that the discussions had been fair and most reasonable, and were directed to the elucidation of questions of the most enormous importance. Those around him who had taken part in the discussions had distinguished themselves 705 alike by their knowledge and eloquence, and when an Amendment was before the House on which they felt they could not advance the knowledge of the House they had maintained a very remarkable silence. There were men of light and learning around him who if they had been inclined to lengthen debate by reiteration could have done so, and rendered their utterances attractive; but, on the contrary, they had done nothing of the kind. There had been no obstruction from those Benches, nor could any such charge be laid to the Party to which he had the honour to belong. For himself, he had remained silent upon questions he was cognisant of, because he had heard them discussed far more ably and eloquently from the Front Bench than it was in his power to do; but though he had not taken part in the discussions he had felt it his duty to give his very best attention to the placing on the Paper of Amendments that had been well considered. Of these Amendments ho could only say that they had been by Her Majesty's present Government either ruthlessly closured or whisked away into the tail-end of a new Bill, and, so far as he knew, destined to undergo a similar process. What was to be their position as Members of Parliament during the next week? The time was coming when they were not to be allowed to speak; and, so far as ho understood the present Resolution, they were not to be allowed to vote, and were not to be allowed to draw attention to any great questions of public interest that might come before the House. Should any question connected with foreign policy arise during this next week, by this Resolution, as ho understood it, hon. Members would be precluded from drawing attention to the subject by moving the Adjournment of the House; therefore, ho said, they rested under an undue disability in this matter. He wished to tell the House what he believed to be the position of those Members on the Unionist side with whom it was his honour to act. He believed they desired in a Constitutional manner to defeat the measure; but, at the same time, they desired, if possible, to improve it, because he would be a bold man who, in the present condition of Parties, would say it was 706 not possible that the Bill might in some form yet become law; and, that being so, he claimed for those who sat around him that they had done their best, by the Amendments which they had placed on the Paper, to improve it—that was, to render it workable should it, unfortunately, be placed on the Statute Book. To restrict discussion in that House was the most dangerous policy that could be brought forward, because there was no substitute for the Debates in Parliament. Neither platform speeches nor any kind of meeting could act as a substitute for occasions upon which a man addressing the House could ask questions of Ministers and be then and there answered; and, in his opinion, it would be a fatal blow to the security of the United Kingdom when the gag was placed upon such Debates. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. S. Whitbread), whom he was sorry not to see in his place, made a statement which he (Mr. Thornton) did not agree with, "that there was a decided mandate at the last Election for Home Rule." He could quite understand that the hon. Member for Bedford fought out the question of Home Rule in his own constituency, to which he was closely tethered during the late severe contest, and clearly did not learn what was the case in other constituencies. He himself could not lay claim to any particular knowledge on the subject in other parts of the country; but in South-West London he unhesitatingly declared there was no mandate there for Home Rule at the last Election. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen said, "Oh, oh!" but he would give his reasons for making the statement. In his constituency, and those immediately surrounding his, the Conservative and Unionist candidates brought the question of Home Rule before the constituencies; but their opponents did nothing of the kind, and he maintained that to bring the question properly before the constituencies it must be done by both Parties. For 18 months their opponents never mentioned Home Rule, which stalked ghost-like amidst the feast of measures mentioned in the Newcastle Programme, he had told the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. J. Burns) that he had neither mandate to support Home Rule or the gag in that portion of Battersea he represented, and 707 had warned him of an intention to state this in the House of Commons. It had been said during the Debate that the present Bill had been fully discussed. He denied that it had been discussed anything like fully. In this Bill, undiscussed at this moment, was the principle of One Man One Vote, which had been smuggled in at the end of the 6th clause. There was the new settlement of the Irish Constitution, and there was the question of a settlement of a crisis when the two Houses differed; and the details as to finance, which were not yet understood by the English people. That being so, it was clear the Bill had not been fully discussed. Then there was that most important question as to the Exchequer Judges, who were to have power to enable military forces to go into Ireland. That, again, was a question which had not been fully discussed. An unfortunate feeling had been engendered by the proceedings of the Government in shortening their Debates. If there was one matter more important than another, it was that whatever their political feelings might be they should keep up friendly relations between various parts of the House. That unfortunate scene which occurred in the House the other day—which everyone must regret who honoured the past history and traditions of the English Parliament—might be said to have taken its origin from the effects of these measures for gagging Parliament. If that spirit of compromise which had hitherto dominated the English Parliament were to be absent, they should not be so successful in their deliberations in the future as they had been in the past. In his opinion, they had to go back to the sixth year of the Stuarts to find a counterpart to the present situation. At that time freedom of speech was denied by the Forms of the House, and the Speaker had to state that he could not allow the question of tonnage and poundage and consequent arbitary taxation to be discussed in that House. Speaking of the First Remonstrance of 1629, when free speech was suppressed, Greene, the historian, said—The breach of their privilege of free speech produced a scene in the Commons such as St. Stephen's had never witnessed before. Eliot (the proposer) sat abruptly down amidst the solemn silence of the House. Then appeared such a spectacle of passions as the like had seldom been seen in such an Assembly.708 Commenting on this, Lord Macaulay said—It was not yet understood, even by the most enlightened men, that the liberty of discussion is the greatest safeguard of all other liberties.Had the Secretary for Scotland been present he would have appreciated the words of his illustrious relative. Those liberties to which Macaulay referred were defended in the next few years by the historic names of Eliot, Pym, and Hampden. It was his honest belief, from what he had seen in that House, that if the Government did not desist from the course they were pursuing, the principles for which Pym struggled and Hampden died would be seriously imperilled. It was a relief to him to know that around him sat honest and devoted lovers of their country who were striving against this autocratic rule. They would not allow one man to dominate and act the autocrat over this country. He could not forget that the Remonstrance of 1629 was followed by the Petition of Rights, and in the same way he believed that this attempt to closure the House of Commons would be followed by an uprising of the English people which would drive from power one of the most dangerous Administrations that had ever ruled over these islands.
§ *MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
said, the Prime Minister had told them that he proposed these Resolutions from the iron chain of consequence. That was to say, having carried his Closure Resolution with reference to the Committee stage, he followed that up with a Closure Resolution with reference to the Report stage, and probably there would be a similar Closure Resolution in reference to the Third Reading. By-and-bye they might have Closure Resolutions with reference to Supply, and the great principle which that House had asserted continuously through centuries, of having grievances redressed before money was voted, would be seriously impaired. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman it was the iron chain of consequence—a chain of consequence most lamentably and deeply to be deplored, and it must be subject of great regret to all who valued the right hon. Gentleman's reputation as a great statesman that he had found it necessary in connection with this measure to restrict the 709 freedom of Debate in that House. Was there, ho asked, any necessity for this arbitrary course in dealing with this measure? The Member for Donegal had made the candid admission that the Home Ride measure was only one of the measures which this Government was charged with and had a mandate upon, and that, other measures would occupy the attention of this Parliament. Now, if there was any mandate, it was a mandate to give some measure of enlarged local government only to Ireland and to carry certain other measures of importance to the people of Scotland, Wales, and England. There was no mandate to put a measure of this character, far too large—unnecessarily large—in its scope, full of contentious provisions, containing within it perhaps 20 Bills—to put such a measure to the front and force it through at all hazards and under all circumstances in this Session of Parliament. There was no mandate to force it through in the way in which it was being forced through. The people of this country supposed that the Prime Minister would have acquired wisdom from the result of the Election of 1886, and from such discussions as there had been in the country with reference to this question, and would have brought in a measure acceptable to the House, instead of bringing in a measure of this extreme character, containing provisions of such a scope that he could not hope to pass it without exhaustive Debate, not merely in the House, but in the country, and after another General Election. The Speaker had advised that the matters which had been considered in Committee should not be discussed very fully on this Report stage, and that preference might be given to subjects that had not been considered in Committee. He asked the House whether that advice had not been cheerfully observed? In the discussions that had taken place—except on two or three occasions when the subject had not been adequately discussed, or when some new light had been thrown upon it, and when some concession from the Government might be expected and hoped for— subjects which had been discussed in Committee were not revived and re-discussed. Yet now they were to be closured, and subjects that had not been discussed at all wore to be taken in the order in which they stood 710 upon the Paper, and without Debate disposed of, the result of which would be that matters of the very greatest consequence would be guillotined next Friday, and they would not have had any opportunity whatever of considering them. Take, for instance, the question of the police in Ireland. That question was only discussed in certain of its bearings. The necessity of putting an end to the police in an arbitrary way within six years had not been considered and discussed. The question whether some scheme might not be adopted by which the police should be allowed to gradually die out, or be adapted and worked into a system of local government in Ireland, had not been considered, and the result would be they would either have to do a great injustice to a very large number of men by disbanding them on the terms of the insufficient superannuation provided by this Bill, or else they would have to enlarge the scope of it and create a pension list, which would be an enormous infliction on the British and Irish Exchequers. That question had not been at all considered or discussed. Then, again, the question of the land had only been incidentally, and he might say accidentally, discussed. The great Land Question, which after all was, perhaps, the most important of the subjects which constituted the Irish difficulty, had not been considered in its largest bearing. It had only been accidentally and incidentally considered, through the chance of a proposed new clause or Amendment. The constitution of the Irish Legislature, its powers, and the way in which differences between the two branches should be settled—all these were questions which had not been discussed at all, or else only within a very limited degree upon some Amendment. The large question of the Judiciary had not been discussed at all. He understood the Chancellor of the Duchy (Mr. Bryce) to say that it was intended to give a right of direct appeal to some Judicial Tribunal against any arbitrary or oppressive action of the Irish Executive or against invalid acts of the Irish Legislature. He also understood that some Amendment might possibly be made to the Bill, to give effect to that, but there had been no opportunity of discussing this 711 matter. He (Mr. Bolton) took advantage of a casual perfunctory sort of discussion that took place to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether an individual Irish citizen would have the same right to assert any grievances that an individual in the United States had, and a similar right of appeal to a Judicial Tribunal, and he understood the right hon. Gentleman to say it was the intention of the Government that this should be so. But if they looked at the Bill they found nothing of the kind. There was a sort of Judiciary independent of Irish control. That was to say, two of the Irish Judges wore set apart to do certain judicial business relating to matters excepted from the control of the Irish Legislature. That, however, was not the creation of such a Judiciary as was necessary. What was wanted was an authoritative Judicial Body in Ireland capable of dealing with Constitutional questions, and they had had no opportunity of pointing out that these two Exchequer Judges would be utterly insufficient to deal with these Constitutional questions. He put down a new clause proposing to create two Imperial Judges. The Speaker pointed out that that might properly come in as an Amendment, and in deference to that opinion he transformed his new clause into an Amendment. The result now would be that there would be no opportunity whatever of discussing that proposition. It might be that his proposition was one which would not commend itself to the judgment of the House. Granted, for the sake of argument, that such was the case, at all events he had the right, as a Member of Parliament, to propose an Amendment of that kind. If they deprived individual Members of the opportunity of attempting amendment in this Bill, they deprived them of one of the most important of the rights they possessed as Members of Parliament, and very seriously impaired their usefulness in that Assembly. It could not be said that he personally had trespassed at length or with frequency on the House on this Bill, or, in fact, on any other question. He had made it a rule to speak only when he had something to say, and then to say it in as few words as possible. The creation of an Imperial Judiciary would be admitted to be a proposal of far- 712 reaching consequence. It was no good whatever to make declarations as to people's rights unless they gave them the machinery by which those rights could be enforced, and this Bill contained machinery so inefficient to protect individual lights in Ireland that it would only be necessary for them to have the opportunity of pointing out the inefficiency of the proposed machinery to clearly show the necessity for alteration. These were large and important matters which they had not had, and would not now have, the opportunity of discussing. They would not even have the opportunity of asking the House, without discussion, to express an opinion on their Amendments, because only Government Amendments were to be put to the vote. It was said that the Resolutions proposed by gentlemen opposite, who constituted the Government in 1887, were the precedent for this Resolution, but he would point out that the Government of 1887 did give the House an opportunity of expressing an opinion on all the various Amendments on the Paper. He asked why did the Government not select the more important of the Amendments and give the House an opportunity of considering them? They adopted a course which had the practical effect of shutting out a large number of subjects which were not discussed at all, and of preventing the discussion of subjects on which it was absolutely necessary discussion should take place. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench might laugh at the criticism he was making, but to laugh and make a matter of joke of a most important proposition of this kind, muzzling the House of Commons and preventing discussion, was not a course which was calculated to recommend the Government to the intelligent people of this country. If these Resolutions were necessary the Government should pass them under a sense of responsibility and with regret, and not with recklessness, levity, and indifference. He did not admit that because a Conservative Government in 1887 passed a Gagging Resolution— which the Members of the present Government protested against vehemently, and which the Irish Members protested against with even greater vehemence— because that Government did wrong in 713 1887, that was justification for this Government doing wrong also. He should have supposed this Liberal Government would have been delighted to have an opportunity of giving effect to the views which they expressed in 1887, and to show that they were not going to follow vicious precedents and to gag the House of Commons in dealing with this far greater and far more important subject. The Bill of 1887 was an important Bill. He did not underrate the importance of that measure; but, after all, hon. Members opposite must admit that there was really but one provision in that Bill, and that it was one Bill, whereas this was a number of Bills. He would quote what a faithful supporter of the Government—the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere)—said of this Home Rule Bill and of the former Closuring Resolution. In the recent address to his constituents, that hon. Gentleman, who aspired to be a right hon. Gentleman, and who probably might be a, right hon. Gentleman in some Radical Government of the future, said—The Bill alters the organic relations between Great Britain and Ireland. Most of its clauses are highly contentions in their character; many, indeed, under ordinary circumstances, would constitute a Bill of themselves, and to have passed these without any opportunity of debate was a doubtful innovation in Parliamentary procedure, and one for which I voted with considerable hesitation.He did not see why the hon. Member to whom he alluded did not go into the Lobby with other independent Members to protest against the action of the Government. As far as he (Mr. Bolton) could see, this action of the Government was unjustifiable. If there was difficulty in getting the Bill through, it was difficulty caused by the Government themselves. If they had intended to make this Bill the one great measure of the Session, why did they occupy weeks at the beginning of the Session in making a pretence of dealing with other large matters? Why did they not call Parliament together early, and make up their minds to pass one Bill before dealing with another? This Bill was not, in its present changed condition, the Bill they brought into the House. In five or six principal features it differed from the Bill as introduced. Many of them thought when the Government 714 brought in their Bill they intended to stand by it in all its main provisions. If they had done so, much delay and discussion would have been avoided, and they would not now probably be discussing Gagging Resolutions. But what necessity was there? Had the country made up its mind as to the Bill now before the House? Did not every communication show that there was no disposition to take this Bill? Could anyone say that there was any strong feeling in favour of the Bill? Were not many friends of the Government very cool with regard to it? Were there not sections of the Liberal Party dissatisfied with it? Did they suppose for a moment that the Welsh Members cared for it except to get the Irish vote on Welsh questions? Was not the Temperance Party influenced by a similar object? Did the agricultural labourers care anything about it? And was the Labour Party content to postpone all labour questions to this Bill? In fact, the whole difficulty the Government had brought upon themselves, and now they were creating a further difficulty by gagging the House of Commons. This was a proceeding which was unfair and discreditable to the Government, and it was deplorable that the Leader of the House—the foremost Parliamentarian of these times—should, through Party expediency, attempt to gag the minority, almost equal to his own majority, with regard to a Bill which was unsatisfactory to the House and to the country at large.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, they had a, high Constitutional question before the House; but it was difficult not to feel the extreme unreality of the Debate that had been con ducted upon it. Unreal it was, because no argument, however strong or irresistible, was likely to make any impression on hon. Gentlemen opposite. Nothing concerning the dignity of the House would have the slightest effect upon them, because they were pledged to follow the Prime Minister and his colleagues. The Debate was unreal, because the matter was decided beforehand. So that anything they might say would not prevent hon. Gentlemen opposite from voting for the proposal of the Government now before the House. He could wish that hon. Gentlemen opposite would give a little time to the Prime Minister and his 715 colleagues. They had changed before, and they would change again. Their Bill had changed many times. Indeed, it reminded him of the Woman of Samaria. The Prime Minister had had many Bills, and this was not his Bill. In fact, it was partly the Opposition's Bill. One-half of the part of the Bill they had discussed was composed of their Amendments. There was scarcely a line that had not been found capable of amendment. There was not a discussed clause that had not received amendment, and that with the full assent of the Government, who, having a majority, could have rejected any Amendment they chose, but who preferred to accept the Amendments. Having done that, he said the Amendments they had accepted must have been accepted because they were fairly moved in order to complete the Bill. They were now called upon, absolutely and entirely, to shut out every other Amendment, of whatever kind it might be, except those proposed by the Government. They were told this was to give effect to the will of the majority, but there were Amendments put down by Members of the majority; but even the most prominent Members of the majority were now to be shut out, not merely from moving Amendments, but from voting upon them, or having them considered at all. In one of the most eloquent speeches of the Prime Minister, he told them that all the Members of the House were equal. He believed that to be one of the principles which the right hon. Gentleman used to believe, but which he had now renounced. But, if that were so, what became of these Amendments? How could they leave it open to exclude all Amendments whatever proposed by Members of the House, except those emanating from the Prime Minister himself? Were all wisdom and knowledge concentrated in him? Why should they debate any question at all? Why go through this idle form? Why not bring forward a Resolution declaring that all the proposals of the Prime Minister should ipso facto have the force of law? That was almost what this proposal amounted to, and what he suggested would be as reasonable as this proposal. What was it meant to do? It was said that this proposal was brought forward to give effect to the voice of the majority—the majority for the moment; but in that 716 majority there were 36 paid Members of the Government, who took £80,000 a year in salaries—who were paid to vote —and it seemed to him that there was a great difference between the majority and the minority, and that they were not, as the Prime Minister said, equal. The proposal of the Prime Minister was the crowning insult to the House. On the 30th March the right hon. Gentleman took every Parliamentary day, and robbed them of their time. On the 29th of June he put his precious Bill into water-tight compartments, and robbed them of their speech, and now he wished to rob them of their votes. Though the fate of this Resolution was certain that evening, it was not the end of the question. If the House agreed to this Resolution there was an end for ever of the House of Commons. He did not know how it was to exist. Lot them go to their constituents, and not keep up this idle mockery. The vital portion of the House of Commons was liberty of speech. It was that principle—for all purposes of Imperial and National importance—which had created, not only the House, but even the Prime Minister himself, and without it the House of Commons practically truly ceased to exist. Yet that was the liberty of which they were to be deprived. Twice before this liberty had been attacked. Three hundred years ago a Tudor Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, on a former Speaker claiming liberty of speech, replied that it was granted, but that it was—Not a liberty for everyone to speak what he listeth and what entereth in his brain to utter; that privilege extended no further than the liberty of Aye or No.The liberty was not to be extended even so far as that by the Prime Minister. Another attempt was made later against the liberty of Parliament, when an armed body of men entered the House of Commons, removed the Mace, and purged the House. It seemed to him (Mr. Gibson Bowles) that the proceedings to-night united the violence of both without the courage of either of those courses. A new Tudor and a new Pride had arisen on the Treasury Bench; but the method adopted was that of the midnight footpad, of the Gladstone garotte, which not merely silenced but strangled at the same time. The Prime Minister owed everything to the liberty of speech in the House of 717 Commons, amid whose traditions the right hon. Gentleman had been nourished and reared—traditions which he had maintained until ho adopted Home Rule; but, strange to say, it was he of all others who now turned to thrust the dagger into the breast of his own mother. They would pass through the Caudine forks, but the reputation of the right hon. Gentleman would pass with them. The country would judge him. The historian would say that here was a Minister who had been reared amid the traditions of that House who was now about to destroy them, and to destroy along with them the liberty which the country held most dear.
MR. JESSE COLLLNGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, the only reason they had for discussing this proposal was to inform the country of what was taking place. When they remembered the traditions of that Parliament, by the fact that the British people enjoyed liberty of speech in Parliament for so long—and that no man had gained more of that than the Prime Minister himself—they were apt to look upon the privilege as one that could not be taken from them, and they could not be surprised that the Prime Minister, of all men, should endeavour so to degrade that House. He could fancy that Members opposite on the Irish Benches were enjoying their retaliation for the Prime Minister's conduct in 1881 and 1882, by compelling him to be the instrument to degrade this Parliament. But the people must not forget the price which had been paid for the privilege, nor the long struggle which had been waged to obtain this liberty; and it would be their duty to rouse up the people, not by frivolous talk, but to enlighten them on the dangers that were around them. Once roused, they would make short work of those who touched their liberties. If this Resolution were approved by the people, the great privilege of the redress of grievances would soon become a thing of the past. Ho ventured to say that no tyranny equal to the present attempt of the Prime Minister had been practised on the English people since the time of Charles I., and no Minister had endeavoured to betray the rights of the people in this way since the days of Strafford. Strafford was punished in the manner peculiar to his day, and the Prime Minister would undoubtedly re- 718 ceive the reward peculiar to these modern days—dismissal from the service of the people at the first opportunity that offered. The Prime Minister in 1886 thought that the Liberal Party was made for him, and not he for the Liberal Party, and he strangled and destroyed it. His idea now was that Parliament was his servant, and not he the servant of Parliament. He (Mr. Jesse Collings) could not help remembering the danger that the right hon. Gentleman described in 1885. It was instinctive at the present moment. He told them of the danger it would lie to the Empire and to the country if they were obliged to act with the Irish majority; but now he was bringing an Irish majority there to control them. They had no alternative but to do this. They knew how they had attained to power in 1892. They advocated anything for the sake of votes. They were willing the Irish Members should have everything so that the Government got into power. On the other side, to the Liberal Members, they issued a number of promissory notes, which were now becoming due. These were necessary for the purpose of getting votes. They must act in some way to get out of the desperate position that they were now in. They could not put off the Irish Members; but they must get this Bill out of the way. Every day and hour that the Bill was discussed showed its rottenness. The Government were like desperate gamblers doubling their stakes as the luck went against them, and putting off the evil day when they would have to account to those whom they had betrayed. They were told that after the Government had got this Bill out of the way they would try to pass other measures, and then go to the country on false issues—the issues of the House of Lords and the Newcastle Programme. Well, the country had been deceived once, and he did not think the people of Great Britain would allow themselves to stumble twice over the same stones. They had the Bill before them now, and were familiar with its provisions. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. S. Whitbread) had referred to the feeling in regard to Home Rule in the villages, and had asked that the Unionists should tell "the whole truth" on the matter. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that it 719 would be sufficient for the Unionists to tell the country a tenth part of the truth about the Bill, and to lay before them the 9th clause alone. They would, however, tell the whole truth, because there was a monotony of iniquity in the Bill. The whole Bill and the methods by which it was sought to pass it were disgraceful, and unworthy of any British Government. When the hon. Member for Bedford stated that the meaning of Home Rule had been made clear to the villagers, he (Mr. Collings) would remind him that at the meeting in the Memorial Hall, at which the representatives of the agricultural labourers were present, the Prime Minister in his address had not said one word about Home Rule, but had only spoken about village reforms and other matters in which they were interested. Was that the way to explain to the villagers the meaning of Home Rule? It was bad enough to deceive one's peers, who had equal advantages with one's self for knowing the truth; but it was far worse to obtain the votes of the humblest class of men by methods which concealed the true objects to which the votes were to be put. The hon. Member for Bedford had spoken about the Home Rule Bill and its principles being perfectly understood at the last General Election. But at that Election nobody knew what the Bill was, except the Prime Minister and perhaps another on the Front Ministerial Bench, and certain Irish Members who had met together to barter away the liberties of Great Britain. How could that be placed before the country which nobody knew about? Even when the Bill was introduced the form which it would ultimately take was not known, for the House was now discussing a now Bill. None of the constituencies know it until the election at Hereford the other day, and what happened there would also take place in other constituencies throughout the country when the Bill was explained to them, as it would be. The whole truth would be told to the constituencies, and he ventured to say that it would tell in favour of the Unionist cause. There had been something said about obstruction. The hon. Member for Bedford had said that the Bill had been discussed for 80 days. Well, it should be explained what 80 days meant. It seemed a long time, but 720 a week's discussion barely amounted to 30 hours, or about six hours a day. The discussion of an ordinary Bill was one thing, but the discussion of a measure to upset the relations of the different parts of the United Kingdom was quite another. Take the 3rd clause alone. It would not be disputed that that clause alone contained what was equal to a dozen Bills. The clause which gave the Irish Parliament the right to destroy the writ of habeas corpus was dealt with in a few hours—he thought about four. The Common Law rights of protection to the minority were abolished after about, five hours' discussion. The whole education of Ireland, upon which hon. Members set such store in 1870, was practically given into the hands of hon. Gentlemen opposite after only a few hours' discussion. The Chief Secretary was one of those who opposed the 25tli clause of the Education Bill, because, as ho said, it might endanger the un-sectarian education in Ireland, and yet the right hon. Gentleman had voted with cheerfulness for the provisions in the Bill which handed over education to the Irish Parliament.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, that if the right hon. Gentleman referred to the Debates he would find that there were more occasions than one on which the principle of non-sectarian education was raised, and on which Divisions were taken. His right hon. Friend should at least be silent in respect for that splendid paragraph of his in a book on National Education in England, where he said that every other nation in Europe was striving to curtail the priestly power, and it was reserved for England to take a different course, and to extend that power. The right hon. Gentleman in the same book even passionately condemned the conduct of the Liberal Government for refusing to listen to the aspirations for religious freedom of the English people, and for handing over education in Ireland to the priesthood. Let the right hon. Gentleman read the words he then uttered, and now endeavour to justify them—now that he was betraying the interests of the loyal minority in Ireland. The 9th clause the Prime Minister admitted he had had up his sleeve, and for days refused to allow himself to be be- 721 trayed into a revelation of it. Betrayed into a revelation of it! Not allow the British public to know what it was they were to support. It was only about six hours before the Gagging Resolution came into operation that it was decided to hand over the practical control of the Imperial Parliament to the Irish Members. Was six hours' discussion sufficient for such a proposition deliberately sprung upon the House and the country? He ventured to say that the 9th clause would have to be examined, and the Prime Minister and every other Minister would have reason to remember that clause. Instead of bringing a vague charge of obstruction, why did not hon. Members put their fingers on the particular portion of the Bill which had been obstructed? If they would go through the Bill clause by clause, though one or two might seem of small importance, and might seem to have had more discussion than they deserved —owing to the long speeches of Members of the Government and their supporters —he would undertake to say that no clause and no Amendment had had anything like the discussion which its importance warranted. If the Gagging Resolution had been imposed before the Financial Clauses had come on for discussion, all the atrocious blunders of that clause would have gone into the Bill without correction. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had said that no Home Rule Bill ought to be rushed through the House. Probably the right hon. Gentleman had changed his mind.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
Oh, yes; for the right hon. Gentleman could not call the discussion on the clauses he had described anything like obstruction.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
What was done in the 80 days. Was not the 9th clause rushed through the House? Were not the Financial Clauses?
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, they had taken about 30 hours to discuss taxing the people of Great Britain to the tune of £2,000,000 a year. Was not the question of education rushed through the House. It was all very well to take refuge in generalities and empty platitudes, but an examination of the clauses and Amendments line by line would show that there had been no unnecessary debating. The fact was that the Government had not a leg to stand on to support their allegation as to obstruction. If there were any ground for the charge of obstruction, the Government knew that they could not have a better cry with which to go to the country. They had the game in their hands. The people would not permit the obstruction of measures on which they had set their hearts; then let the Government dissolve and go to the country. The opportunity was one which they would grasp immediately if they believed in their own statements. The hon. Member for Bedford ridiculed what was called "the British majority." The hon. Member could not understand what was meant by it. He (Mr. Jesse Collings) supposed the Union was brought about by an agreement between Great Britain and Ireland. [Cries of "No!"] They were both parties to it. The House had hoard a great deal about the blackguardism of Pitt in this matter; but it was to be hoped that they would hear no more on the subject after to-night. Of course, it was said that the Union was brought about by corruption which assumed the form of money bribes. But the agreement that was now being attempted to be carried into effect had been based on the corruption, not of the promise of money, but of the promise of measures. As ho had said, there were two parties to the Union—namely, Great Britain and Ireland. They heard it on every platform now-a-days that Home Rule was to be given to Ireland because Ireland wanted it; but there wore two parties to the partnership. It was not sufficient to assert that the majority of the Representatives of Ireland desired to put an end to the partnership. The majority of the 723 British people must desire the severance, else how could it be brought about. And they saw that the majority of the Representatives of Great Britain continually voted in favour of the Amendments resisted by the Government. The British Representatives had a right to be heard. It was an outrage to attempt to stifle discussion on this Bill by those Representatives. This was a very serious night indeed, which would arouse serious thoughts in the minds of every politician in the country. This country, like all other countries, would go down some day or another; but it would be exceedingly mean if it were allowed to go down at the hands of the Irish Members who had succeeded in capturing the Prime Minister, and in getting him to join them in the betrayal. The duty of the Unionist Party, at any rate, was clear. In the first place, they had to place before the country the true meaning of this Gagging Resolution, and to dispute altogether the reasons advanced by the Government. In the next place, it was their duty to do their best to free the country from the policy which the worst possible Government of the country was endeavouring to give effect to.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
said, there was only one part of the speech of the right lion. Gentleman who had just sat down with which he would venture to disagree, and it was the one in which the right hon. Gentleman compared the Prime Minister with Strafford. He must protest against the comparison as unfair to Strafford. They had had a very interesting speech in the earlier part of the evening from the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. S. Whitbread.) The hon. Gentleman always appeared on the scene at the moment when the Government, of which he was a valued and valuable supporter, was in dire straits. It night be said of him that he acted as an old Parliamentary "bonnet." That night he had played his accustomed rôole with even more than his accustomed skill. He dwelt upon two points chiefly. He told them that the Prime Minister was doing what had been done by the Conservative Government in 1887, and he expressed his inability to 724 understand what was meant by "the British majority." The hon. Gentleman, if he sought again the suffrages of the electors of Bedford, would learn perfectly well what the British majority meant, because he would find that the electors of that ancient English borough would not return to Parliament a gentleman who had voted in favour of the Irish gag. [Cries of "Order!"] The inconsistency and absurdity of the argument of the hon. Gentleman as to the "British majority" were sufficiently exposed by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. He would only say that for a follower of the present Government to deny the right of the Unionists to appeal to the feelings of the majority of the people of England and Scotland, when the sole basis on which the Prime Minister founds his Home Rule Bill was that they had in its favour a majority of the people of Ireland, was a paradox so complete and so utter that it hardly required refutation. The other argument of the right hon. Gentleman was that the Tories adopted the same course in 1887. But no one knew better than the hon. Gentleman that there was no comparison between the present Bill and the Bill of 1887. Every detail of the so-called Coercion Bill was thoroughly familiar to the House and the country. Every item of it had been discussed over and over again in the House. The Prime Minister had himself, in 1881 and 1882, introduced and passed Bills in the House which contained every detail of the Bill of 1887, and many additional and much more drastic details as well. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE dissented.] The Prime Minister shook his head, but they knew that at present no value was to be attached to these movements or gesticulations of the right hon. Gentleman. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] He did not know what the Chancellor of the Exchequer meant by saying "Oh." What he (Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett) meant was that the Prime Minister constantly in the House denied or affirmed things to which, if he had devoted the great resources of his memory at the moment more closely, he would have been unwilling to deny or to affirm them. [Cries of "Oh!"] He would repeat, for the Prime Minister's benefit, that his Bill of 1881 and his Bill of 1882 con- 725 tained far more drastic provisions than those which were contained in the Bill of 1887.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
Just notice the miserable resort to which the Chief Secretary was driven. He did not mention a practical detail of the Bill. The Chief Secretary laid stress upon one fact, that the Bill of 1887 was not for a limited period. The Chief Secretary knew perfectly well that any 15 ill, whether for a limited or unlimited period, could be repealed by Parliament; and if the Government felt so strongly on that particular detail why did not they repeal the Bill?
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
Quite so, and here was the Chief Secretary answering himself, lie had given the right Gentleman credit for being, at all events, more or less of a superficial logician. [Cries of "Order!"] But he was not even superficial, for in one breath ho reproached them for having made the Bill permanent, and in the next ho told them the Government had been able to get rid of it by dropping it, thereby entirely destroying his own argument. The Government had proposed for the second time this measure of permanent or complete Closure—this gag—this guillotine. And why? Not from any great consideration of policy. There was absolutely no question of policy involved. They had not themselves proposed that the Bill should come into operation before September, 1891. That was to say, they had still 12 months before the Bill must become law. Therefore, there was no absolute necessity, such as existed in 1887, for restoring order in Ireland, and preventing crimes which rendered the life of peaceful and loyal citizens intolerable. The proposal of the Government was based absolutely on Party considerations. It was no secret that the Prime Minister was himself coerced into adopting this 726 policy. [A laugh.] The Prime Minister now smiled at the suggestion, but a very few weeks ago he did not smile, and could not have brought himself to smile. The Prime Minister proposed this gag, in the first place, against his better taste and judgment, and he was driven into it by the Radical wire-pullers and manipulators of his Party. The gag had been introduced because the Government found it impossible without it to carry any important measure of British reform in the same Session in which they brought forward this Irish revolutionary measure. That was a partizan motive. The measure now before the House was not a single Bill—it was a hundred Bills—it was a thousand. Bills rolled into one. [A laugh.] He recommended the right hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Mundella), who laughed, to read the Bill. He very much doubted if the right hon. Gentleman had read it hitherto. If he read the Bill he would find it embraced a large number of details which, in ordinary limes, would occupy many hundred Bills. He would mention one instance. The law of habeas corpus —a subject which had exorcised the ingenuity and patriotism of generations of British statesmen—was dismissed after two or three hours' Debate. It was a portion of a sub-section of a single clause, and it had been discussed in two or three hours. The Bill, in fact, dealt with the whole administration of Ireland, and with the relations of Ireland to the United Kingdom. Under what circumstances was it proposed to gag this Bill? The whole financial basis of the Bill had been three times reconstructed. The latest reconstruction only took place a, short week before the gag, and the Debate upon it was limited to the first six lines of the first of the clauses. The result of the financial scheme which was closured in this way was that in future the people of England and Scotland were to pay 35s. a head towards Imperial taxation, and the people of Ireland only 6s. 6d. It was not surprising that the Government wore anxious to closure the Bill. Then, again, with regard to Clause 9, the Prime Minister had told the House over and over again that the Government intended to adhere to the in-and-out scheme. The Government changed their whole front upon that 727 clause, and decided to allow the Irish Members to be present to discuss and to obstruct every question that came before the Imperial Parliament. This measure had been well described as a gag upon the people of Great Britain. It was an attempt to stifle and destroy the voice and the vote of the Representatives of the majority of England and Scotland by the operation of the small Irish majority of the Government. It was a very striking fact, and one worth recalling, that in the final Divisions which took place upon the former application of the gag the majority of English Members who voted against the gag was 77, and if they added the Scotch Members to the English Members the majority was 56; and, adding the Welsh Members as well, the total British majority against the application of the gag was 34. Those facts would be remembered by the people of this country, and he was certain that when the decision of the electors came to be given upon the policy of the Government an enormous English majority would be returned against the present Prime Minister (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). The Prime Minister had said that he thought no race was in greater need of discipline than the English people. Well, the right lion. Gentleman had proceeded to apply the discipline. He had undertaken to break up the Union, to dismember the Empire, to undo the work of a thousand years. It was a little more than a thousand years since England was united into one land, and the process of unification and consolidation which the Government was now going to break up had been going on ever since. The Prime Minister was not only going to undo this great work, but he was going to make the British people pay for it. The sooner the appeal was made to the people the better, and he was confident that when it was made the Separation policy of the Government would be entirely and overwhelmingly reversed.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
The speech to which we have just listened is a sufficient symptom that the Debate is exhausted. I do not think the Government have any reason to complain of this Debate, or of the Amendment 728 which has been moved to the Resolution of the Government. I have always observed, with some gratitude, that from the Liberal Unionist Benches the most valuable assistance frequently comes to the Government. The Liberal Unionist Members manage to frame their Amendments in such a way that they have given to this Administration, in the course of the present Session, a greater number of Votes of Confidence than any Government of modern times has ever received. As to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), we have always recognised that his speeches have the peculiar effect of rallying and uniting the Liberal Party, which is hardly to be found in the speeches coming from any other source. The violent injustice of his language, his exaggerated virulence, and his personal rancour towards the Leader of the Liberal Party have an effect upon that Party which they gratefully recognise. It was said of a man that one blast upon his bugle-horn was worth a thousand men; but one blast upon the horn of the right hon. Gentleman is worth many votes. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. S. Whitbread) has already disposed of the Amendment and its Mover, and I do not think it necessary to add much to the Debate. I quite agree that in a question of this kind every case must stand upon its own merits; it is not sufficient to be governed simply by precedent on occasions of this character. Therefore, I do not wish carefully to inquire whether one case is absolutely upon all-fours with another. But, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman opposite cannot get rid of the precedent of 1887 so easily as that. It is not merely by alleging that the cases are different that they can be disposed of. The importance of the precedent of 1887 was that it introduced for the first time the principle of the Time Closure in the House of Commons—that is to say, of fixing a particular time by which a Bill should be passed through the House. Of course, that was a proceeding which was very inconsistent with all the former practice and traditions of the House of Commons, and it formed in itself a very important precedent. It broke the ice which had remained there—I will not say for a thousand years, but for a very 729 long time; it was the letting out of the water on the subject of the Closure. Gentlemen opposite sometimes pay me the undeserved compliment of quoting my former speeches. It rather wounds my vanity that they have omitted the speech which I made on that particular proposal, because I rather illume myself upon the prediction I made upon that occasion. I ventured to point out to the House in 1887 that the probability—and, indeed, the necessary consequence of the step the House was then taking—was that, as always happens, especially in the English House of Commons, where precedents are followed, that it would be pursued, and particularly with regard to the coining Home Rule Bill. From that point of view I rather welcomed the precedent of 1887, and I do not think I protested against it. I certainly did not vote against it. Of course, you thought your Bill a good Bill, and we thought it a bad one. Well, that generally takes place between the opposite sides of the House, and now we think our Bill a good Bill. [Opposition cries of "Oh!"] But you do not apparently have the same toleration for the promotion of our Bill as we had for the promotion of yours. Your Bill represented your Irish policy; it was the policy of coercion. You used what you now call the "gag" for the purpose of carrying the policy of coercion. We have proposed what we regard as a policy of conciliation, and we propose to take a similar form and method to promote the policy which we have proposed. Well, then, the only real question in this matter is—Has there been a reasonable time, in the opinion of reasonable men, given for the discussion of this Hill? Upon that point the country will form its opinion. After all the other Party issues have been disposed of the question will be—Has there, or has there not, been a reasonable time given for the discussion of this measure? In my opinion, everything else in this Debate is beside the question. At all events, primâ facie we are able to say we have given 80 days for the discussion of this question, and that, I understand, is double the time that has ever been given to any measure brought under the consideration of the House of Commons. I venture to say that, under these circumstances, the 730 onus of proof lies upon those who say that a reasonable time has not been given. It is asked—Where is the unreasonableness of the time we have taken in the discussion? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), speaking for the universe, assured us that there never had been any intention that this Bill should not pass in the course of the present Session. If he says that for himself I am quite willing to accept it, but he must allow to me my own opinion as to the intentions of the other parts to the universe. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman was flatly contradicted by his ally opposite the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), who said that this Bill consisted of 16 Bills, and that each of those Bills required a month each. I ventured to observe across the Table that 16 months were more than a year, which seemed to me to be a well-founded statement, borne out by the almanack. The right hon. Gentleman amiably acquiesced in that proposition. Then I venture to say that he was not in accord with the right hon. Member for West Birmingham when he said that the intention was that the consideration of this Bill should have been concluded in the present year. When we remember how this Bill has been treated, I think we may form an opinion—I am quite sure the country will—as to what the intentions were that dictated the manner in which the campaign has been conducted. When the Bill was divided into what were called compartments, with the object of bringing a certain number of clauses under discussion in each successive week, what happened? I think that in nearly all those weeks the whole week was expended in the discussion of a single clause, and that clause was not completed. In these circumstances, we have to ask ourselves if the Opposition are determined to spend more than a week upon every clause, because it really comes to that—[Cries of "No!"]— well, every clause they had the chance of discussing they spent more than a week upon—is it possible that any measure of first-rate importance can ever be dealt with by the House of Commons? That is what it really comes to. We are in this situation—Is the House of Commons to be reduced to such impotence that a 731 minority can so conduct their opposition that no first-rate measure, if they choose to refuse it, shall be allowed to pass through the House of Commons in a single Session? That is practically the question. I will try to convince even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). I know him too well to attempt to convince him by any authority less than his own. On this, as on many subjects, I have learnt much from the right hon. Gentleman; and upon this, as upon most other questions, at one time or other we were in perfect accord. I think we are in perfect accord upon tills subject now. Nothing will give me greater satisfaction than to find I have the support of my right hon. Friend. No one, I am sure, ever states the views he entertains in a more lucid and forcible manner before this House and the country than the right hon. Gentleman. That which, to my mind, is the base and root of the whole question is—How far and under what circumstances does it become imperative upon a deliberative Assembly to assert the right of the majority to carry its measures? Now, the right hon. Gentleman propounded this in an excellent manner not three years ago. He said—The problem presented by the growth of obstruction in the House of Commons is continually becoming more urgent and more important. We have already arrived at a condition of things in which it is possible for any minority absolutely to prevent the majority from passing any legislation at all.And then he paid a well-deserved compliment to the Opposition in the late Parliament. He said—During the last Session the Government were enabled to carry a certain number of non-Party Bills. This limited success was due entirely to the forbearance of their opponents, who were satisfied with the withdrawal of the chief Bills in the Unionist programme and magnanimously refrained from pushing their advantage to the fullest limit. But there is no doubt that under the existing rule they have it in their power to prevent the passing of a single Bill and to make the Session an absolute blank so far as legislation is concerned. Is this state of things Constitutional? Is it consistent with the theory of democratic government? Is it in the interests of the people at large?That is the question which we have to determine here in the first instance, and which the people outside have to deter- 732 mine afterwards. You think they will determine it in your favour. We believe they will decide it in our favour, and I am trying now to show what the question really is. Then, referring to the obstruction of which lie speaks, the right hon. Gentleman proceeds to observe that the power of the people under such a systembecomes an empty name. It is useless for the people to express their wishes and to return Representatives. if all the efforts of those Representatives can be successfully paralysed by a determined and factious Opposition. An ordinary Session of Parliament affords ample time for the fair presentation of arguments for and against the leading proposals of the Government. It offers sufficient opportunities for the consideration and decision of every reasonable Amendment. On the other hand, no Session, however protracted, will be found sufficient for even a solitary Bill if all the Members of the Opposition insist on exercising their technical rights to the utmost.This is a true presentation of the question, in my opinion, with which we have to deal. Well, the right hon. Gentleman then deals with the case of America, where they were encountering exactly the same difficulty, and describes the method in which the difficulty has there been dealt with. He refers to various proceedings which have proved ineffectual till at last they came to what is called the application of the "Previous Question," which is similar to the Resolution now before the House—that is, the time Closure, within the time limited for that purpose. And then the right hon. Gentleman, speaking of the practice of the United States, says—By this proceeding, summary and arbitrary as it may appear to us, obstruction is rendered hopeless. At a predetermined date and hour the Bill or Resolution under consideration must be voted on,—and I will call attention to this observation, which seems to be very pertinent to our present situation—and the minority have only themselves to thank if they waste the intervening period on irrelevances or personalities instead of using it to bring forward their strongest objections and most important Amendments.That seems to have met with the approval of the right hon. Gentleman, and he saw no injustice to the minority.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I beg my right hon. Friend's pardon. He has been perfectly fair up to the present moment, 733 but he is going too far when he says that met with my approval, because if he will be kind enough to continue the passage he will find I pointed out that in the United States, by this arbitrary process, they have entirely destroyed free discussion.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I do not want to do him any injustice. I will treat him as fairly as I can. But this is to he taken always supposing reasonable time has been given, and that the minority has not taken advantage of that reasonable time. Then the right, hon. Gentleman says—Whatever the future may have in store for American politics, it seems certain that the death-knell of obstruction has been sounded as an established instrument of Parliament and Parliamentary tactics, and future minorities will have to earn the privilege of fair discussion by giving the clearest "evidence of their determination not to abuse it.We are agreed upon that. As far as I can see, we are agreed that the minority are to earn the privilege of fair discussion by giving the clearest evidence of their determination not to abuse it. We have thus made some progress towards what is called "the gag." That is what has been established in America. But what does the right hon. Gentleman say of the condition of the House of Commons? He says—The position of this country is most striking. Here the control of business has passed out of the hands of the Government of the Queen and the majority of the Representatives of the people. Legislation is only possible by the sufferance of the minority, and very often a small minority, made up of the least respectable and least intelligent.That is an awkward point—who are the least respectable and least intelligent— upon which I do not desire to dwell. It is hardly necessary to the argument. Having reviewed the measures taken by America and the results produced, and contrasted them favourably with the results now extant in the House of Commons, the right hon. Gentleman proceeded—In considering this important question it should be borne in mind that under any system the majority have the power of controlling business if they choose to exert it. No change 734 of rule is necessary for this purpose, only a change of practice and of a deeply-rooted feeling which has hitherto made such a proceeding distasteful to the majority of the House of Commons, and has led them to submit to the tyranny of a small minority than to depart from the generous traditions of many centuries of representative Government.I agree entirely with that, and I think it was a memorable day when the practice was broken through in 1887. I say that is is precedent which necessarily has had, and will have, its consequences. Having used these arguments there comes a remark of the right hon. Gentleman which is deserving of the special attention of the House—But there is nothing to prevent the majority from bringing up and passing, under the Closure Rule, similar Resolutions to those adopted in Congress, limiting debate on any particular measure or even preventing debate altogether. It is not the power that, is wanted, but the will, and the experience of Democratic rule in the United States justifies the belief that if a Leader should hereafter arise who should even by the most arbitrary method restore to the House of Commons its old authority over its Members, and enable it to regain control of its business, he would be supported by public opinion, and would be held to have deserved well of the country. Good government he would have rescued from paralysis and contempt.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Certainly. It continues—It would seem wiser not to wait for the advent of this deliverer.Now the right hon. Gentleman denounces the deliverer [pointing to Mr. Gladstone] as an arbitrary tyrant. Three years ago the right hon. Gentleman was on his knees praying for a saviour of society, but now he moves this Amendment to my right hon. Friend's Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman goes on in his article to discuss various points, among others the matter of Supply, which is not yet under consideration, and he says—Coming now to the question of the Committee stage on Bills, it has been already pointed out that under our present system it is easy for a small minority to occupy a whole Session of Parliament in the discussion of Amendments in Committee on a single Bill.Then he says— 735It cannot be too strongly insisted upon that no ordinary Closure, no limitation of the length of speeches, no rule against repetition or disorder will prevent this possibility. There is one remedy, and only one—namely, that adopted by the American House of Representatives in fixing by Resolution the limit of time at which the whole Debate in Committee shall be brought, to a close. Supposing that a reasonable and, indeed, an ample time is fixed for this purpose, will anyone contend that there would lie any hardship to the minority or that public interest would suffer?When some reference was made to this very remarkable article the other day the right hon. Gentleman said ho desired that this question of fixing a limit of time to any Bill should be referred to an impartial Committee. Well, I think it would be difficult to frame an impartial Committee to deal with this question. I dare say, however, the right hon. Gentleman does not think so. Perhaps he is of opinion that if he were Chairman of a Committee composed of the gentlemen who sit around him it would ho an impartial Committee. For myself, I do not exactly see how this impartial Committee is to lie formed or how such a step as this can ever be taken except as it is taken in the House of Representatives, by the majority of the House, who are the Representatives for the time being, at all events, of the majority of the people whose business they sit hero to transact. Then these ardent Unionists are so very anxious to dissect the majority of the House of Commons, and we have now for the first time, I should think, in the annals of the House of Commons the suggestion of a British majority. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Hear, hear!] Yes; but if you are going to dissect the majority, why do you not separate Scotland and Wales? Why not speak of a Scotch majority, a Welsh majority, an Irish majority? The late Chancellor of the Exchequer became a little confused when he was dealing with this question of a British majority, for he said—Of course we do not separate majorities as long as this is a United Kingdom.Well, at any rate, it is a United Kingdom now. Why, therefore, talk about a British majority? We know, of course, very well what this language means. It 736 is the old language of ascendency, language redolent of that spirit according to which it was always supposed that the Irish were au inferior race, and that their votes ought to be reckoned on a lower scale. It is part of the old tradition that it was the British alone who had a right to govern. I fancy I am rather a better Unionist than the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, for I maintain that in this House of Commons there is no English majority, no Scottish majority, no Welsh majority, and no Irish majority. It is a majority of the collective Representatives of the people, representing the majority of the people of the United Kingdom. Well, Sir, I have endeavoured to state to the House what I consider is the question to be discussed and determined to-night. Have the Government proposed an adequate time for the discussion of this Bill? [Opposition cries of "No!"] I know you are not satisfied; but that is our opinion, and it is upon that ground that we propose this Resolution. It is perfectly true that ultimately the country will have to decide. I do not complain the least in the world of an Opposition always calling for a Dissolution. We always did it when we were in Opposition. A man who has lost a game always likes to have his revenge, and possibly to get his money back again. But the country who sent us back in a majority expects, and has a right to expect, that we should do something, and we intend to do it. When we told you to dissolve the country was against you on Coercion. I may observe that you did not dissolve for six years, but when you did you found out that we were right. After six years we may make the same discovery, but the discovery has not been made yet. It seems to me that we have put a very fair issue before the House. It is perfectly idle all this talk about the gag. You have the doctrine of the gag explained in the article I have read. You had the system of the gag established for the first time by gentlemen on the opposite Bench. They may say that it was applied in an excellent cause; we say it was applied in a bad one. We say we are applying it in a good cause. You may say we are applying it in a bad cause. These are opposing opinions which opposite Parties will take. That 737 is a matter which has to be determined, and which ought to be determined, by the majority of the Representatives of the people. We have placed before you the grounds upon which we consider that the time we have given for the discussion of this Bill is ample. I must say that the state of the House for the last week—I might almost have said to-night — has shown that the time has been considered ample by most of its Members, because they have ceased to take much part in the discussions. I believe—I know you will not agree—that the country, the majority of the country, is satisfied that there has been quite time enough spent upon the Bill. That is the opinion which we have entertained, which we have embodied in this Resolution, and on that Resolution we are perfectly prepared to take the opinion of the House of Commons now and to take the opinion of the country hereafter.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I rise, Sir, to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, and I congratulate him on two grounds: I congratulate him, in the first place, on having been able to find a quotation from one of his own speeches with which he heartily agrees; and I congratulate him, in the second place, because he has been able to supplement the labour which most of us undergo when we address this House on a question by occupying almost the whole of the time he has addressed the House in reading out some extremely interesting extracts from an article by somebody else. I certainly do not complain of that. I am only delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman shelter himself under my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman can express himself with much greater felicity than I can command. I am delighted to see him preaching another man's sermon, but it seems to me that he somewhat misunderstood the text. I do not pretend 738 to have refreshed myself with a careful perusal of the article from which we have had such copious extracts; but if I understood those extracts, and interpreting the whole article merely in the light of those extracts—which, I presume, were carefully selected—I should have said that they represented the views of my right hon. Friend when he was dealing with a small minority who had ample time for discussing the measures placed before them. Whether we have or have not had ample time to discuss the measures placed before us is a question I shall come to directly, but whether we are or are not a small minority is a question I will deal with at once. I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that a minority which is only 5 per cent, less than the majority of the House cannot under any estimate be regarded as a small minority; and when ho quotes the example of my right hon. Friend—when he quotes American precedent for a mode of dealing with great Constitutional changes, he provokes one into reminding him of what the provisions in America are for preventing great Constitutional changes. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the American Senate and House of Representatives, who were held up—and in certain respects quite rightly held up —by my right hon. Friend opposite, would have tolerated, or could, if they wished, tolerate, a great Constitutional change advocated only by a majority which differed from the minority by 5 per cent.? To make a Constitutional change—not like the present revolution, but the smallest change—in the American Constitution requires a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives and a two-thirds majority of the Senate; and after that two-thirds majority has been obtained in both the great Representative Assemblies, it then requires to be submitted to the State Legislatures, and three-fourths of the State Legislatures must give their assent. And you have the courage to bring before us as a parallel to your own procedure the action of the free Republic on the other side of the Atlantic, which, whatever be its merits or whatever be its faults, at all events differs from the majority of this House in this: that it knows how to value a Constitution handed down to it by its forefathers.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
At all events, the right hon. Gentleman did show that he appreciated the gravity of the step which he and his friends are requiring their followers to adopt to-night; and in that he differed—and, I think, differed for the better—from the Prime Minister. I never heard a speech, introducing, I will not say a great violation, but, at all events, a great revolution in our procedure, like that delivered by the Prime Minister. It was a genial speech, it was a cheerful speech; it was a speech delivered with every charm of manner; but he never approached the subject. He asked us to sign away our liberty as you would sign a cheque for a few shillings; and as for arguing the case, the Prime Minister, possibly as a good tactician, but certainly not as a great statesman, never brought before us for one moment the real magnitude of the issues which we are now confronting. He told us that it was the logical conclusion of his previous action, that what we were asked to do to-night was the consequence bound by an iron chain of that which we had, unfortunately, done a month ago. I do not know whether this iron chain is to stop where it is. I do not know why we are not to find ourselves bound by it hand and foot in future times, and why this, which is the logical conclusion, according to the right hon. Gentleman, of what we have done earlier in the Session, should not be itself the logical premiss of acts of equal tyranny performed either by right hon. Gentlemen or by their successors in future Sessions of Parliament. The fact of the matter is, that all those who pretend that this is not a new departure, and who will attempt to base their action upon anything done by hon. Gentlemen now on the Opposition Bench a few years ago, entirely mistake, as it seems to me, the functions of a Legislative Assembly and an Executive Assembly. We are both. If we were merely a Legislative Assembly which did not meddle in Executive matters, one rule would be applicable to all our proce- 740 dure. But we insist on interfering, and are required to and must interfere, in Executive matters as well as in legislative matters; and there are some matters, technically legislative, which trench so nearly upon the Executive functions and duties of Government that they cannot really be distinguished from them. Such was the action we took in 1887. Every man will admit—whether he agrees with what we did in 1887 or not—that it is the first duty of Government to maintain law, preserve the rights of individual citizens, and preserve general order. Every man will admit that a Government which finds itself face to face with a state of disorder, which, in its opinion, cannot be quelled or dealt with in any other way, is bound to get through this House the necessary legislative powers to enable it to deal with the situation in which it finds itself. That general proposition, which is true of the maintenance of the law, is equally true in cases of public danger or foreign invasion, and in cases of any public crisis. But you must distinguish broadly from cases of that kind; cases which are merely and strictly legislative cases; cases in which you are endeavouring to reform if you will—to injure and destroy, as we think—the Constitution of the country; cases in which you are passing laws which may be good or bad, but of which the imminent and instant necessity is not obviously demonstrable; and in that second category, by your own confession, stands the Bill which we have been discussing for these 70 days. There are Home Rulers in this House and anti-Home Rulers—men who believe the salvation of Ireland, and this country too, depends on our passing Home Rule, and men who have a precisely opposite opinion; but whether we be Home Rulers or whether we be anti-Home Rulers, all of us must agree in this: that whether Home Rule be passed in 1894, or 1895, or 1896, or 1897 does not affect the future of this country or of Ireland. It is not a question of months or days, as in the case of the Crimes Act. It is not the case of a foreign invasion or of a great public crisis. This is a case of a great alteration in the Constitution of the country, and, whether that alteration be good or bad, at all events this House may at least claim the full power to discuss the details 741 of the main provisions of the measure which the Government have submitted to us. That broad principle being laid down, and I hope and believe accepted by the House, I ask whether there is any excuse for the revolution in our procedure attempted to be thrust upon us by the Government and by the small majority which it commands? The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) gave one reason why the change should be made. He said we are exhausted by our labours; that the attendance in the House during the last two or three weeks shows that the House is not fit adequately to discuss the Home Rule Bill. I do not say that the House at 90 in the shade is in the best possible condition to carry through difficult and responsible legislation, but, at all events, our discussions, feeble as they may be, are surely better than no discussion at all. The arguments we humbly advance are better than none at all. If the Government adopt the wise procedure recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and ask the House to reconsider the question in the autumn we shall be happy to accede; but if the Government insist upon carrying on the business through August, we also are ready to moot their wishes. The difficulties are not of our seeking, and they do not call for the taunt of the hon. Member for Bedford, because, in my recollection, never have labours of the Session been of such extraordinary magnitude, and the House has at this season of the year never devoted itself with such energy to the discussion of legislation. This is the first argument that has been advanced. The second argument is this, and it is chiefly relied upon by the Prime Minister: He said—"You have attempted to smother this Bill with the number of your Amendments." Well, I have watched this Bill closely, with a closeness rivalled only by two other Members in this House, and I absolutely deny that there has ever been any desire to smother the Bill, or that that result, as a matter of fact, has been attained. It all depends on the view that you may take of the complexity of the Bill. My right hon. Friend said it was equal to 16 Bills. I will not say how many Bills it is equal to, but I will say that every step you take you kick 742 up a new principle; you tumble over principles every moment, and you cannot move through a clause, through a sentence—I might almost say through a word—of this 151II without finding that questions are raised equalling in magnitude those raised by half-a-dozen of the ordinary humdrum Bills on which this House very properly spends its time. When we recollect that this Bill deals with the whole question of the Police in Ireland, Civil servants in Ireland, the whole Executive in Ireland, the Royal veto in Ireland, the constitution of two Houses of Legislature in Ireland, finance and the land—not to weary the House with other questions—any one of which might form the subject of a Bill which would in itself become of great importance in any Session, is it not a little grotesque to say that we have abused the Rules of the House in moving Amendments? The only other argument I have heard is that, in addition to there being too many Amendments, those Amendments have been discussed at too great length. I hear the Chief Secretary assent to that. He is the Minister in charge of the Bill. It is the duty of the Minister in charge of a Bill, when the discussion has gout on too long, to move the Closure. How often on this Bill has the Closure been moved and granted during the Report stage? So far as I am aware, the Closure has been moved twice and granted once, and once only. Is it not absurd, then, to say that the discussions on individual Amendments have gone on too long? Clearly, they have not cither in the opinion of the Government, or in the opinion of the authority in the Chair at the times and certainly my own recollection is that the discussions have been remarkable for their brevity. I am not now discussing whether or not there have been too many Amendments. I am only discussing whether or not they have or have not been debated too long, and I can state with absolute assurance and confidence, having had some experience in these matters, that in all my knowledge of the House I have never heard Debates compressed within limits, on the whole, more narrow, more directed to the point, and in which those who have on the part of the Opposition been responsible for the conduct of the Debate 743 have striven more genuinely and earnestly to confine the discussion and the argument to the point at issue. [Mr. MUNDELLA dissented.] I see that the President of the Board of Trade expresses a doubt about that. He has been away during these Debates attending to his Departmental duties. I have been here and he has not, and I give that as the direct and distinct conclusion I have drawn from a most careful and impartial consideration of what has taken place. If there has been an exception to this general rule, it has not been an exception of which I individually, or the House, I think, have felt any reason to complain. The only person, so far as I know, who has at all travelled beyond the strict line of relevant argument has been the one man in the House to whom such a sin is readily forgiven—namely, the Prime Minister. He has delighted us; ho has cheered us through the hot weather— through our protracted labours—by speeches of which I can only say they are the one thing that would have consoled me for the deprivation of a holiday which I have been taught by long experience to expect about this time of the year. But, though the right hon. Gentleman's speeches have had all the qualities of readiness, elasticity, and dexterity, of eloquence, and charm, I cannot honestly say that they have always had the merit of relevancy. I particularly have in my mind one famous occasion on which in a rash moment I made a rash observation that the Government were not worth answering. What was the result of that ill-timed observation? It was that the Prime Minister jumped to his legs and, with splendid gesture and eloquence, launched out into a denunciation of the actions of the Tory Government in 1887 with regard to the Land Bill, quoting Lord Salisbury about the sacredness of judicial rents, and discussing all kinds of questions on which there was absolutely nothing to say except that they were quite wide apart. We were not discussing Lord Salisbury; we had nothing to do with judicial rents; we were not touching on anything in the least connected with the subject; but the right hon. Gentleman could not restrain himself, and he delighted the House and wasted our time in a speech of three-quarters of an hour.
744 [Cries of "An hour!"] I do not quite recollect, the time passed so quickly to those who heard the speech—but we felt that whatever it was it was not business. I recollect another case. It was when the Government had, by some of those errors of tactics to which all Governments are liable, blundered into a perfectly untenable position. They had, through one of those mistakes which are quite unaccountable, and which we all make, determined to resist an Amendment which had for its object the repeal of a certain Bill which gave very abnormal privileges to the Irish Government with respect to the repeal of the Habeas Corpus Act. I recollect that Debate well. The right hon. Gentleman first attempted to break down the Opposition forces by throwing against them the whole weight of the Solicitor General. As they still remained unmoved and unshaken, he then launched against us the reserve of the Attorney General; and, still finding us undefeated, the right hon. Gentleman thought that a strategic retreat was the only course open. Much as I admire the right hon. Gentleman, and greatly as I have enjoyed his performances on this Bill, I do not think that my admiration ever rose to the point it did on that occasion. He made an admirable speech. He professed to have been converted to our view long before his Solicitor General or Attorney General had spoken. He launched into an account of the passing of the Octennial Bill by Grattan's Parliament, absolutely irrelevant, I need hardly say, to the particular Amendment. Having given us a vivid account of the Parliamentary vicissitudes of that great measure, ho said that he had no doubt, from internal evidence, that the same exertions that Grattan's Parliament made in favour of the Octennial Bill they had made in favour of the repeal of this Habeas Corpus Act. He said he had no historical knowledge of the fact, but he had no doubt they did do it, and on that ground he would do it. Finally, he concluded by declaring himself converted to his own views by the speech of his own Attorney General, which was directly in the opposite sense, and he did that with the admiration and assent of the whole House. There was not a man who did not enjoy it; there was not a man who 745 did not think better of the right hon. Gentleman, and there was not a man who would not have done it himself if he could. There was one fault, and one fault alone, of which that speech may be accused. It took three-quarters of an hour; and if it took three-quarters of an hour for the Prime Minister to accept an Amendment, I want to know how the Opposition can be attacked for taking many times three-quarters of an hour in supporting an Amendment? I thought something would be gained by mentioning these concrete instances; but there are others scarcely less striking which will, I am sure, come to the mind of everyone who has followed the proceedings of the Committee closely; and I say boldly that, although the right lion. Gentleman has shown the most extraordinary Parliamentary genius through all these Debates, nevertheless he, and ho alone, is guilty of the irrelevance and waste of time which, most unjustly, has been put upon our shoulders in the attack made upon us. I think, and I have always thought, that we are primarily, and must always be primarily, a debating Assembly if we are to carry out our duties. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite talk as if discussion was the privilege of the Opposition. They say—"If you spend a lot of time over Clauses 2, 3, and 4 you cannot expect to have the fun of discussing 5, 6, 7, up to the 44th clause." But it is not a case of the amusement of the Opposition; it is a case of our carrying out our duties to our constituents. Even if it be granted, as I do not grant, that we have not compressed our Debates on the first four clauses within the narrow limits which we might have done, I say there is not the faintest shadow of an excuse for preventing this House, either on the Committee stage or on Report stage, from carrying out its duties and discussing the proposals of the Government. It is not the Opposition who are hurt by this; it is the House itself. We have no love for sitting here through August discussing this Bill. You do not do us a kindness by letting us go on. The question is, whether or not this House, if you curtail, I will not say its privileges, but if you prevent it from 746 carrying out its duties, can retain, or will deserve to retain, the position it now holds in the estimation of our countrymen. I am of opinion now, as I have always been, that our traditions are sufficiently robust, deep-seated, and permanent to prevent one or even two tyrannical actions like this from absolutely destroying the future of this House? I am not a pessimist, and I refuse to take a gloomy view of the future of this Assembly. I acknowledge that the long discussions, which are the absolutely inevitable and necessary incidents of Assemblies of this kind living under Democratic Institutions, might produce an impatience in the country among the democracy which, in a moment of madness, might induce them to deprive us of our liberty and to triumph over our fall. But I do not believe that the great crisis has yet arrived. I see no signs of any catastrophe of this kind. For if that happens it must happen under the stress of some great popular excitement. It must lie under the leadership of a man who not only commands universal admiration for his talents and the respect of a great Party in the State, but who has behind him the great mass of the people of this country. No such catastrophe has yet occurred. Gentlemen opposite do not pretend to themselves, even in their most sanguine moments, that they come here with the force of a great popular movement behind them. They do not look forward to the next Election as men going from a triumphant struggle to receive a great ovation. They are like criminals awaiting their trial, and, like criminals in that unhappy condition, I do not think that they are likely to hasten the event which will, however, sooner or later come upon them. But when that time shall come, when the National Assize shall be held at which men are to be judged by their political deeds, I, at all events, firmly believe that a punishment will be inflicted on the criminals in this case which will take from them and their successors any desire in future to repeat the offence.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 200; Noes 162.—(Division List, No. 276.)
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, at Eleven o'clock p.m. on Friday the 25th day of August, if the proceedings on the Consideration of the Report of the Government of Ireland Bill be not previously concluded, the Speaker shall put forthwith the Question, or Questions on any Amendment, or Motion, already proposed from the Chair. He shall next proceed to put forthwith the Question on any Government Amendments of which notice has been given, after which he shall put forthwith the Question on- the Motion appointing a day for the Third Reading of the Bill.
Until the Report is disposed of, no Motion of Adjournment under Standing Order 17 shall be received, nor any dilatory Motion on the Bill unless moved by one of the Members in charge of the Bill, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith. Proceedings under this Order shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.