§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE, Edinburgh, Midlothian)
rose to move the following Resolution:—That the proceedings in Committee on the Government of Ireland Bill, unless previously disposed of, shall at the times hereinafter mentioned be brought to a conclusion in the manner hereinafter mentioned:—(a.) The proceedings on the Clauses 5 to 8, both inclusive, not later than 10 p.m. on Thursday, 6th July; (b.) the proceedings on Clauses 9 to 26, both inclusive, not later than 10 p.m. on Thursday, 13th July; (c.) the proceedings on Clauses 27 to 40, both inclusive, not later than 10 p.m. on Thursday, 20th July; (d.) the proceedings on the postponed Clauses, new Clauses, being Government Clauses, Schedules, and Preamble, not later than 10 p.m. on Thursday 27th July; and, after the Clauses, Schedules, and Preamble are -disposed of, the Chairman shall forthwith report the Bill, as amended, to the House. Then at the said appointed times the Chairman shall put forthwith the Question or Questions on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair. He shall next proceed, unless and until Progress be moved as hereinafter provided, successively to put forthwith the following Questions:—That any Clause or Schedule then under consideration, and any of the said Clauses or Schedules not already disposed of, stand part of, or be added to, the Bill. After the passing of this Order no dilatory Motion, nor Motion to postpone a Clause, shall be received unless moved by a Minister in charge of the Bill, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith: if Progress be reported the Chairman shall put this Order in force in any subsequent Sitting of the Committee; proceedings under this Order shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.He said: Mr. Speaker, before addressing myself directly to the Resolution of which I have given notice, I think that I ought to state to the House two conclusions at which the Government have arrived, in no manner binding upon the House, but strictly and absolutely binding upon my Colleagues and myself. The first of them is that we should not feel ourselves justified in advising any intermission of the labours of the House, whether by way of Prorogation or of Adjournment, until the Supplies for the year have been voted, and until the Irish Government Bill has passed through the House. The second conclusion, Sir, associated with it is this: that we do not consider that the severe labours connected with the passing of the 374 Irish Government Bill in any degree release us from the pledges which we have given to consider and to press to the best of our ability, within the present year, the most important and weighty of the British measures that have been submitted to the House. Coming now, Sir, to the Resolution that I am about to propose, I shall endeavour to set a good example of brevity, and I shall also endeavour to avoid the controversial portion of the topics with which the subject bristles—topics which abound on every side, and some of which, perhaps, might even have been suggested by a portion of the proceedings of this evening. It is with real pain, whatever may be my opinion of the causes of our difficulty—it is with real pain that I make a proposal tending to abridge in the slightest degree any of the liberties of speech or action possessed by any Member of this House. Perhaps I may say that the length of time during which—at least on this side of the House—an active desire has prevailed for some operative Resolution—the length of time during which we have advisedly refrained from bringing forward such a Resolution, supports, in a certain degree, what I have said as to our reluctance. But we have now reached a point when there is a case of necessity before us, and when, in our opinion, that necessity has become absolute. It is, Sir, on the character of that necessity that I shall dwell, and I shall endeavour to present it to the House apart from controversial and invidious topics. We are compelled by the arrangements of our finances to regulate our Parliamentary proceedings by the revolution of the year. But, the year containing 12 mouths, it is obviously impossible for the Members of this House to devote the whole of those 12 months to the direct discharge of their public duties within these walls. The common practice of Parliament has been for the last 60 years, since the passing of the first Reform Act—the common practice has been to devote six months, or perhaps seven months, to the discharge of those duties; and, in assigning to them so large a portion of the year, I believe I may correctly say Parliament has gone beyond what has ever been attempted—beyond what has ever been done by any other deliberative Assembly in the world. But, Sir, we have now reached a point 375 at which, continuing at the present rate of progress in our business, it is not six months, it is not seven months that would suffice—eight, nine, or even 12 months would not suffice for all we have to do; and, therefore, the entire confusion of our Parliamentary system on the one hand is before us, or else the abandonment of the duties which we—the majority in this House—have undertaken. That is an alternative that cannot be too briefly or too simply stated. Will that proposition be disputed? I shall illustrate it, as it is my duty to do, by reference to facts, and by reference to facts entirely apart from any controversial insinuation. We have spent in Committee on the Irish Government Bill—on two clauses of that Bill—the space of 19 days. Those were the third and fourth clauses. What has been the character of the Amendments to those clauses? It is quite plain, Sir—and it is not, in itself, a matter of reproach—it is quite plain, as a matter of fact, that right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposed to the Bill have thought it to be their duty, having been defeated by the verdict of the House on the introduction of the Bill and on the Second Reading of the Bill—they have thought their duty to endeavour to destroy the Bill in detail. Of that there can be no question. It would be invidious if I were to found that statement on a particular declaration of a particular Member, however eminent; but I think no one will dispute what I say when I go on to urge that, in their quality, these Amendments have been such that, it they had been carried, the Bill would have been absolutely nullified and destroyed, while, in their quantity, they have been such as to render it absolutely impossible for this House, with whatever largeness be offered of sacrifice of time and comfort, and I know not what beside—absolutely impossible for the House to pass a measure of this magnitude unless we adopt some extraordinary measures which should never be resorted to except on extraordinary occasions—it is placed beyond our power to deal with this measure. But, Sir, to deal with this measure is exactly the commission we have received from our constituents—that we have urged upon them, and that we have freely, voluntarily, heartily and, I believe, enthusiastically accepted. 376 [Laughter.] I do not know the title of the three or four gentlemen who choose to adopt that method of interruption. I know not their title to pretend that they are better acquainted with the sentiments of those who sit on this side of the House than the person who now has the honour to address it. Well, Sir, we have made a proposal, and I think that, tinder the circumstances, it is a proposal as considerate as we could contrive to make it. I will compare it, as regards the circumstances under which it is made, with the proposal made in 1887 with regard to the Crimes Act; and I will compare it and compare our position in respect to this measure with the case of one or two other measures which, as far as I know, are the measures that have most largely demanded the sacrifices of Members and occupied the time of this. House. If I look to the case of the Crimes Act, in regard to which a Motion of this kind was made and carried on June 10, 1887, I find that the days spent in Committee on that Bill before the Motion made—that is to say, before the case of extremity was considered by the Government of the day and by the. majority of the day to have been arrived at—the days spent in Committee before-arriving at that extreme point of strong measures were 15; and the number of days allowed by the Resolution then submitted to the House before the final discharge of the Bill from the Committee was five, making a total of 20. On the present occasion we have been in Committee, at the moment when I submit this proposal, not for 15 days, but for 28 days, and we propose to allow for the consideration of all that remains of the Bill, not five days, but 20 days. The effect of that will be that, whereas on the occasion of the Crimes Bill—a case of restraining liberty or advising, as we have always contended, new forms of action to be made criminal which had not been made criminal before and, above all, for inscribing coercion absolutely for the first time as a perpetuity—20 days in Committee were deemed to be sufficient, we propose in regard to this Bill for restoring to Ireland a portion—I hope an effective portion—of what she lost in 1800, we propose to allow in the stage of Committee 48 days. No charge of harshness, of impatience, of inconsiderate-ness, can be sustained upon that state of 377 facts. But the point which I am most anxious to bring home to the mind of the House is this: We have reached—if we have not, indeed, passed it—we have reached the point at which the question arises—what acts lie and what do not lie within the powers of the Legislative Body? I look to history; and considering all the experience which makes this House so illustrious and so venerable—I think I am justified in saying that; if we refer to those measures which, in the whole course of its history, have imposed the heaviest burdens on the House; if we carefully refer only to the greatest, the most difficult, the most burdensome of those cases we are taking a course which indicates to us something like the limit of the powers of the Legislative Body. I will only refer now to two such measures. One of them was the Reform Act of 1831. On that Act—the construction of which was most peculiar on account of the number of boroughs with separate interests that were extinguished by its provisions—on that Act no less than 40 days were spent in Committee, and the entire number of days that were devoted to the Bill was 49, from its inception down to the Third Reading. In the case of the Land Act of 1881, which was another remarkable case—and those two measures very considerably exceeded in the duration of the Debates upon them any others with which I am acquainted—the Committee stage occupied 33 days, and the total number of days devoted to the measure was about 49. But in the case now before us we have already, as I have stated, assigned—partly we have spent, partly we propose to assign by our Resolution—48 days altogether to the Committee on the Bill. To the single stage of Committee we propose to assign within one day of the time that was occupied by the Land Act of 1881, and within one day of the time that was taken by the Reform Act of 1831, which may well be said to have introduced a new principle, to have given a completely new basis to the institutions of this country, and which convulsed the country in the course of its career. We propose to give the same time to the Committee on this Bill that was given to all the stages of those two Bills. We propose to give a time for the Committee on this Bill which will make the whole period expended upon it, when 378 the close of the Committee is reached, 64 days, and when we have expended 64 days on the Bill down to its being reported from the Committee, we shall still have to deal with the Report and the Third Reading. I think I have shown that unless such expediting measures as are now put before the House are taken, the task which we have set ourselves, in which we have engaged, and which we are bound alike in honour and by policy to fulfil, will have passed beyond the limits of human attainment, and we shall return as a disgraced majority to our constituents. I have not made it a charge against hon. Gentlemen opposite that they have endeavoured not to amend, but to destroy, the Bill in Committee, because I know that they regard the Bill as such a monster of iniquity that they actually found it necessary to denounce it before it was introduced, and still find it necessary to apply to it, from the mouths of academical Members, epithets which have never before, in my knowledge, been applied to measures deliberately adopted by a responsible Government returned to Parliament by a majority of the people. Under the influence of these, doubtless, conscientious feelings, hon. Members have felt themselves constrained to resort to new measures of opposition, and to propose Amendments which are vital to the principle of the Bill, and likewise to discuss those Amendments to an extent which, if continued, would render the passing of the Bill impossible. I think that, without any extravagant demand on the time of the House, I have shown that, as matters now stand, a twelvemonth is not sufficient for us to go through with this Bill. Four clauses having occupied 28 days in Committee, it is evident that by the same means and processes 12 months would not be sufficient. I believe this proves our case—that this is a necessity, strong, absolute, undeniable. There are before us two questions—first, the great question whether this Bill shall be passed during the present year through the House of Commons; because a year's prolongation means a year of multiplied mischief both to England and to Ireland—a prolongation of embarrassment to Parliament and hopelessness for the discharge of its proper business. But there is, besides this great question, another 379 and still greater question, which lies at the very base and root of our whole Parliamentary system—the question whether the majority shall prevail. If the majority is not to prevail our institutions, instead of being the glory of the land, will become a mockery and an imposture. I am sensible of the duty of that majority to afford ample time, ay, and more than ample time, for the discussion of all that is, or all that can be deemed, or imagined, reasonable, and of much that is unreasonable. That I believe we have done in the past, and provided for in the future, and now I call upon the House to vindicate that principle, vital to all our Institutions, and to support the proposition of the Government to the end that we may attain that purpose, unattainable without it, that the majority of this House shall prevail.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the proceedings in Committee on the Government of Ireland Bill, unless previously disposed of, shall at the times hereinafter mentioned be brought to a conclusion in the manner hereinafter mentioned—
Then at the said appointed time the Chairman shall put forthwith the Question or Questions on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair. He shall next proceed, unless and until Progress be moved as hereinafter pro-Tided, successively to put forthwith the following Questions:—That any Clause or Schedule then under consideration, and any of the said Clauses or Schedules not already disposed of, stand part of, or be added to, the Bill;
After the passing of this Order no dilatory Motion, nor Motion to postpone a Clause, shall be received unless moved by a Minister in charge of the Bill, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith:
If Progress be reported the Chairman shall put this Order in force in any subsequent Sitting of the Committee:
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. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman began his justification, or attempted justification, of the proposals we are now considering by making a general statement with regard to the Business of the House, not strictly relevant, indeed, to the Motion, but not on that account less interesting or important. He informed us that the House was neither to adjourn nor to prorogue until the Bill now under discussion has gone through all its stages, until all Supply for the year has been passed, and until several unspecified measures of great importance have also received the assent of Parliament.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. The second proposition was that, as to these measures to which he refers—British measures—the Government were bound by their pledges to deal with them within the year.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not know whether that announcement was made as a threat or not. If it was made as a threat it falls upon ears not very sensible to that kind of inducement, and I can promise the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends that as they have the control of the Business of the House, so long as they think it desirable to ask our attention to their proposals, so long will that attention be given. It is not my business to attempt any forecast of the future of this Session, but it is perfectly true that the labours we have already gone through, and the labours apparently that we are to go through, are in excess of those asked of any other Legislative Assembly in the world. The Government are responsible for these demands, and as long as they make them we shall respond to them. I do not know that there is any ground for supposing that we, any more than they, shall prove neglectful of our duties to our constituents, or that we shall weary of legislative well-doing. I pass now from this general statement of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the Business of the House to what is more properly our concern at the present moment—namely, the merits or demerits of the Resolution the right hon. Gentleman has submitted. I gathered from his speech that there is one, and only one, justification in his mind, and that justification was what he called necessity. I confess it appeared to me 381 that if he was accurate in his views of what this Parliament might be asked to do, the necessity does not exist. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman saying that our proceedings are regulated by our revolutions round the sun; that a year sees the limit of our Parliamentary effort with regard to one Bill, and, therefore, it is absolutely necessary for us to get through the work on one Bill, unless the whole labour of the Session is to be barren. That is an intelligible view, though I have already expressed my own views as to the methods by which the difficulty can be overcome. But what I want to know is, how it can be described as a Parliamentary necessity to curtail all liberty of discussion upon the Home Rule Bill on the ground of the lapse of time, when by the very confession of the Minister asking us to pass this Ordinance there is plenty of time to deal with other important measures? The two parts of the right hon. Gentleman's statement are inconsistent. Whatever be the ground for adopting this Resolution, it is not one of necessity; it is a ground of expediency, and, if I may venture to say so, not of Parliamentary expediency, but of Party expediency. It may be asked, do you seriously mean to say that the legislative action of a Government is to be confined to one measure in the course of a Parliamentary year? Do you rate the claims of the House to discussion and of the minority to objection so high that they are justified in raising objection after objection to such an extent that only one Bill can pass through its stages in the House of Commons? No, Sir; I make no such general proposition. It all depends upon what the Bill is. [Cries of "Coercion!"] I am coming to coercion presently. It all depends on whether or not the measure proposed to us is one that justifies and requires the whole energies of a Parliamentary Session, or whether it is one which ought properly to be dismissed in a relatively brief time, so as to make way for other proposals as important as itself. Can we doubt under which category the Home Rule Bill stands? The right hon. Gentleman has ransacked history to find measures which have taken a long time in discussion, and which he appears to think are of equal or even superior importance to the measure now before the House. There is no such measure in 382 British history. Never has a Minister of the Crown proposed for the acceptance of Parliament a measure comparable, not merely in its complexity and in the number of questions which it raises, but in its bare importance, to the Home Rule Bill—["The Act of Union!"] That certainly is not comparable with the Home Rule Bill, although it was a most important measure. But the right hon. Gentleman did not quote the Act of Union, although he did quote the Land Act of 1881 and the Reform Bill of 1831. I deny that either of these measures is to be compared with the Home Rule Bill. The Land Act of 1881 was a very complex, very elaborate, but not a very successful measure. The Reform Bill of 1831 did excite the very greatest public interest, which is more than this Bill can be said to do. It had in its favour the passions of the multitude from the North of Scotland to the South of England, which nobody can say this Bill has. But though it excited those passions, it, after all, left the Constitution of this country upon its ancient lines. It did not remove the old landmarks of Parliamentry government, and it did not provide for this country an entirely new-fangled Constitution giving these islands the extraordinary system by which there are to be two Parliaments, the Lord Lieutenant in two capacities, and all the other duplicate absurdities with which this Bill bristles and with which this Bill deals. If the importance of the Bill is to be the measure of the time taken upon it in this House, then I say the proposals of the Government are ludicrous, and, as I have said before, nothing less than the whole energies of Parliament, devoted through the whole Session to this one task, would possibly be adequate for bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion. We all know that the Government have not devoted their energies entirely to this Bill. It pleased them in the earlier days of the Session, for political and Parliamentary reasons which everybody understands, and with which even their opponents sympathise, to get through some of the preliminary stages of no less than five gigantic measures which they have laid on the Table of the House. That is not the way to preclude discussion upon a new Constitution for these islands. It is not a good or adequate basis, or an adequate 383 justification, for coming down at the beginning of July, in a Session thus commenced, and asking the House to curtail their liberties and leave undiscussed the most vital provisions of the Bill which has been laid before them. Do not let anyone suppose that in the opposition—so far as I am concerned, the determined opposition—which I make to this Bill, I am not in the least concerned because the Government think by this proposal to further the cause of Home Rule. I do not look at this question as in any way connected with Home Rule, and I believe that those who think that Home Rule will become law are labouring under the wildest delusion. I doubt whether the proposal will have any effect one way or the other on the ultimate issue of this great controversy. But if it has any effect my own belief is that it will act rather against the Government than in their favour. I do not come here to oppose this Resolution as a Unionist, but because I think it is absolutely inconsistent with the very elements of the life of a free debating Assembly. I will make two admissions to right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I will make, in the first place, the admission that their business—for reasons which I have indicated, and on which I do not wish further to dwell—is not in a very satisfactory state. And I will make this second admission, that there may be—and experience has proved that there are—occasions under which, unfortunately, it is absolutely necessary to do something to curtail the efforts of those who desire to deal with legislation, not by argument, but by obstruction. I have myself come to that conclusion with extreme reluctance. [Ironical Nationalist laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may jeer, but I do not think that anybody doubts it. I have watched with deep pain ever since 1878 the growing necessity thrown upon this House occasionally to intervene and, in order to preserve its very existence as a Parliamentary Institution, to impose a bridle upon the unrestrained eloquence upon some of its Members. I lay down no absolute proposition, but I say that the House of Commons before it does that should well weigh the step it is taking. I say that every time it does it, it removes some not unimportant fraction of its ancient dignity and its 384 ancient privilege; and I say there is nothing under the present circumstances that would justify us in doing that which is, I believe, absolutely unprecedented, and which, so far as the future is concerned, augurs extremely ill for the fortunes of what has been the greatest debating Assembly in the world. The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to the precedent on which he has based his action—namely, the precedent of 1887. It is not the only precedent. It is not the only time this House had to adopt violent and revolutionary means of bringing the matters before it to a conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman himself was concerned in two such revolutionary proceedings not more than 10 or 12 years ago. In 1887 we did what the present Government propose to do—we fixed a day on which we proposed that the Committee stage of the Crimes Bill should come to an end. The right hon. Gentleman, whose experience of Crimes Acts is unique, had on two occasions previously to the Crimes Act of 1887 to apply not the same, but not less effective, methods for carrying through proposals which he thought absolutely necessary for the security of Ireland. In 1881 he carried certain drastic Closure Resolutions by the simple method of suspending everybody who differed from him. In 1882 he adopted very similar proceedings, or very similar proceedings were adopted at his instance by the majority, and the whole of the Irish Party were again suspended, and in their absence the whole of the clauses were passed through by those who had suspended them. Well, that is one mode of carrying out your Debates. But it is more applicable—I will not say more justifiable—it is more easy of application, when the minority consists of some 30 or 40 than when it is not very distinguishable numerically from the majority behind you. So much for the precedents of the right hon. Gentleman, which I am glad he does not mean to follow on the present occasion. I will now come to the precedent for which we are responsible. It is, of course, true that Mr. Smith came down to this House and made the proposal to which we have had reference. I cannot, therefore, put the question that we have to determine more clearly before the House than by asking whether that is or is not a legitimate precedent on 385 which to press the proposals now before us. I say that the parallel between the two cases fails in every single particular. To begin with, the Crimes Bill was urgent, and this Bill is not urgent. I am not going to discuss whether the late Government were or were not justified in bringing in the Crimes Bill at all. Their whole policy may have been founded on a delusion; it may have been foolish, it may have been wicked; but if the Crimes Act was justifiable at all it was obviously urgent. Its justification, or supposed justification, was that there existed a condition of lawlessness in Ireland which required to be put down by a strong hand, and that innocent men and women were subjected to a tyranny from which the law in its original condition was powerless to deliver them. In the name of freedom they called upon us to help them, and we were bound to come to their help without a moment's delay. That was the case of the Government, who would have shown itself incapable of carrying on its most elementary duties if it had not seen that the Bill so brought in should without undue delay become the law of the land. Well, nobody advances a similar plea for the great Constitutional revolution which we are now discussing. Does a week here or a week there matter when you are considering the final destiny of Ireland and the ultimate form of the Constitution of Great Britain? The next point of comparison is the character of the opposition in the two cases. The right hon. Gentleman expressed his own view that the character of the Amendments was not justifiable. He has not made that objection in terms to which anybody could take exception. But in substance he made that statement, and it is a statement that I absolutely traverse. I have probably a far longer and certainly more minute acquaintance with the vicissitudes of Bills in this House than the majority of those who hear me. It has been my fate to conduct many Bills through the House, and to have listened to other gentlemen conducting them, and it is my conviction that no man impartially considering the facts of the last fortnight or three weeks can say that, though the Amendments were numerous, the proceedings were obstructive, having regard both to the brevity of the speeches, and their 386 relation to the important subjects with which they dealt. Nobody can seriously or sincerely deny that proposition. ["Oh, oh!"] Any undue length of oration has been indulged in by gentlemen intimately connected with the Bill itself. I heard speeches of immense interest from the Leader of the House upon many Amendments, which though I greatly admire them, as I always do admire the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, they were not absolutely and strictly relevant, and positively the only speech distinctly and obviously intended to waste the time of the Committee—the only speech of a purely obstructive character—that I have heard in the whole course of these Debates was one made yesterday afternoon by the Chancellor of the Duchy (Mr. Bryce), when he was afraid that a Division would take place before the whole strength of his Party had arrived. I am not going into detail on the specific Amendments and the time taken over them, but I will remind the House that the question whether or not the manipulation of the law of conspiracy in Ireland should be left to those who have shown themselves to be possessed of very peculiar views on the subject of conspiracy was despatched in little over an hour. The important question of bounties was closured after little more than an hour's debate. Again, the question whether or not Ireland should be allowed to supersede the present system of education, and to substitute an entirely new system in its place, was dismissed in a little over an hour, and the Amendment to take out of the power of the Irish Parliament the passing of these Coercion Bills which the right hon. Gentleman now thinks are such a grave infringement of the liberty of the subject came to an end after less than two hours' debate. Talk of the time taken over the Coercion Bill! Is an hour's Debate enough for handing over to the Irish Parliament the power to pass endless Coercion Bills—a Parliament which will be a machine for the production of Coercion Bills? Is an hour and a half too long to devote to that question? The fact is, the undoubted length of time these clauses have taken arises from their very framework. The Americans, following the same method as the right hon. Gentleman, attempted to leave everything to 387 the States except certain specified powers, and they have been occupied ever since in adding to the number of the subjects excluded. If we attempt to compress into the limits of the Committee stage the discussion of subjects which have occupied the Americans for years and years, it is rather hard that we should be accused of unduly prolonging the Debates. I take another distinction between the Act of 1887 and this Bill. The Act of 1887, whatever gentlemen below the Gangway may think of it, was, at all events, a simple Act, and in its main provisions was not a new Act. We followed with slavish fidelity the example set us by gentlemen opposite. We paid them the flattery of almost absolute imitation. The provisions we brought forward have been tested over and over again in Ireland with few modifications, and have been shown to be always adequate to the objects for which they were asked. Therefore, the House was familiar with the procedure. It knew the effects and it could calculate the consequences. Who is familiar with this Bill? Who can calculate its consequences? You are taking a leap in the dark. You have invented proposals and you know not how they will act, and as to which the boldest prophet among you ventures no further than to utter airy hopes and baseless expectations. These are the kind of proposals which you ask us to pass without examination and without discussion. These are the kind of proposals you think fit to rush through the Imperial House of Commons. One more point of comparison and of distinction between the Act of 1887 and this Bill. The Crimes Act, though a permanent Statute, is revocable by a Bill of a single clause. It is revocable practically without a Bill at all, and at this moment it is revoked by the executive action of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Therefore, when the House adopted that Act they took no step which could not be retraced. They plunged into no course which they would be obliged to pursue to the bitter end. What does the House think of the Bill on which we are now engaged? Is that going to be revocable by a single clause? Is that a kind of policy which this House, having once entered upon, will ever be able to withdraw from? No, Sir; this Bill passed, nothing short of the bayo- 388 nets of the British Army will ever revoke it. You are committed far beyond your powers as legislators to withdraw. You have embarked on an experiment of which you cannot foresee the end and in which you cannot stop half-way. What you have begun that you will be compelled to finish. Surely before we take a step involving the future destinies of this country to all time—a step which neither we nor those who come after us will be able to go back upon—surely a week or two more need not be grudged us in discussing the details. Surely it is the height of madness, the height of Parliamentary lunacy, to pass a Resolution like the present, which will take out of the power of this House the discussion of the latter portion of every one of those self-contained blocks of the measure, and which, therefore, if the Bill is ever to become law, will become law without ever having gone through the wholesome, even if lengthy, ordeal of criticism in Committee in the House. These four distinctions, I think, are conclusive. I do not believe any answer can be made to them, and therefore I say it is not upon the past the Government can found their present action. It is not on precedent they can base their claim to the acceptance of their measure. They are themselves beginning a new precedent and a new procedure which may be of incomparable injury to the future fortunes of this Assembly. It may be necessary—it will be necessary—to discuss the exact amount of time which in each of the four compartments the Government have given us for the business they expect us to transact. I do not mean to go into that in detail, but I would ask the Government whether they do seriously think that Monday, Tuesday, the five hours which we get on Wednesday, and the four or five hours we shall be allowed on Thursday, are really enough to enable us to settle what the Executive Government in Ireland is to be, and what are to be the constitutions of the two Chambers to which that Executive is to be made responsible? Is not the very statement too ridiculous? Suppose the Government had brought in a Bill with nothing in it but the constitution of an Executive for Ireland, and the re-constitution, let us suppose, of an Assembly already there. How long would it take for that? Half a Session. And 389 yet we are to make these things brand - new in three clays! How about the second compartment? That compartment contains a great many clauses, including the whole question of the representation of the Irish in this House and the Debate which must arise on the dropping of Clause 10. This is to be got through in a Parliamentary week. I again put a supposition before the House. Let us suppose there was in Ireland at this moment a Parliament constituted upon the model which commended itself to the Government in 1886, unaccompanied, therefore, by any representation in this House, and let us suppose that the Government thought that state of things required amendment, and came down to this House and proposed that the Irish Members should come here in full force and for all purposes. How long would that proposal take? What amendment and what discussion would be thought legitimate upon a plan of that kind? Why is it to take a shorter time because it is embodied in a Bill full of other proposals almost as monstrous than if it were brought down in its own naked and unlovely isolation? The amount of time to be given for this proposal, which, if embodied in a separate Bill, would take half a Session, is, as I understand it, one-eighth of the week from July 7 to July 13. I suppose, therefore, a Parliamentary night is to suffice us for determining whether henceforth we are to be masters in our own House; or whether, henceforth and for all time, we in England and in Scotland are to be governed by gentlemen below the Gangway. So much for the second compartment. How about the third compartment? That compartment contains a very large number of clauses, varying in importance. Some of them, I quite admit, are not much more than machinery, but amongst these clauses is one dealing with the land in Ireland, and on this clause we have been told by the Chairman of Committees that it is our duty to raise any question we may have with regard to the powers of the new Irish Parliament over the land. What is the Prime Minister's experience of Debates on the Land Question in this House? Does he think they are so brief that the subject can be adequately discussed with about a dozen other clauses in the course of 390 one Parliamentary week, or, in other words, five days? Again, I say, the proposal is perfectly illusory and absurd. And now I come to the fourth compartment, containing all the postponed clauses, all the new clauses, and absolutely excluding—and this is one of the most amusing things—absolutely excluding every new clause, as far as I can see, proposed by a private Member. Private Members have been informed by the Chairman from time to time that various important proposals which were brought forward as Amendments to Clauses 2 and 3 ought to be introduced as separate clauses. Yet they are not even to be allowed to have a chance of bringing them forward. But that is not all. Among these new and postponed clauses are the whole, or almost the whole, of the financial proposals of the Government. The Government bring forward a Bill for Second Reading, which contains a financial scheme, and which financial scheme occupied no small portion of the time of the House on the Second Reading. They see fit to alter the whole of that scheme. They bring forward one which is new from top to bottom and from side to side, in which hardly a plank of the old fabric can be found. We are asked to get that, among other things, into this last compartment, and we are not to be allowed, as far as I can see, to discuss the Second Reading of these Financial Clauses at all. Was such a proposal ever made? This House, we have been told, is the guardian of the public purse; and yet, while we are for the next six years to determine the whole financial relations between England and Ireland, when, as we think, the English taxpayer is to be robbed for the pleasure of being governed by the Irish voter, we are not to be allowed to give adequate expression or make any adequate criticism on the plan of the Government—a plan which we have only just heard of, which we have had no time to consider, and which we are not to be allowed to discuss on the Second Reading—at all events, I see nothing about a Second Reading discussion on these clauses in the 2nd Resolution; and if they are to be discussed on the Second Reading, that discussion must be crammed, with innumerable other matters, into the last week which we are to be allowed. I think, after what I 391 have said, that the House will be of opinion that there are motives stronger with the present Government than a mere desire to free this Assembly from the burden of Opposition rhetoric. I find many reasons which would influence them. Those who have been present during our Debates in Committee must have come to the conclusion that those who came best out of our argumentative contests were not the gentlemen in charge of the Bill. They must have felt that, with all the array of legal and other talent, the Government have not succeeded in meeting the case put by the Opposition on any one occasion. We have brought forward argument after argument which has remained unanswered; and at this moment the right hon. Gentlemen who complain of the time spent in Committee on Clause 4 have to admit that as that clause stands it still requires enormous amendment, and will have to be entirely re-cast on the Report stage. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE signified dissent.] I do not wish to debate Clause 4 with the right hon. Gentleman; but his Colleagues made statements open to no other interpretation. Even after the ordeal which Clause 4 has gone through, it requires re-casting in most important particulars. We have the pledges of the Government. There is only one further point to which I wish to call attention; and it is directly relevant to this great issue. The Bill that is presented to the House is justified mainly on the ground that the opinion of Ireland, as expressed by the majority of her Representatives, is in favour of it. In other words, it is represented as a demand made by Ireland upon Great Britain. Therefore, for the purposes of this Bill, Great Britain must have a right to isolate her voice as the voice of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway is isolated for the great mass of our representation. And if you have a right to say, "The majority of Irishmen desire it," we have a right to say, "The majority of Great Britain do not desire it." I have taken the trouble to analyse the Divisions we have had on this Bill. Up to last Friday there have been 83; and in a certain number the Opposition and the Government were on one side. But of the others, in not less than 70 Divisions there was a distinct and large majority of Great Britain against the 392 proposals of the Government. What is the inference I draw from that? It is one that cannot be contested—that by these proposals you mean to closure the voice of Great Britain. We forsooth who represent the majority of this country, are not to be allowed to have our voices heard on these proposals which destroy the ancient Institutions of this country. Is that a tolerable state of things? In this Parliament have we come to this pass: that free debate is no longer to be carried on by the majority of Englishmen and Scotchmen, that they are not to be allowed to express their minds on one of the most vital and fundamental changes ever proposed? Our Parliamentary liberties are involved in these proposals; the right hon. Gentleman is there to destroy them. It is melancholy that these evils should be brought on us, not by the passage of a Home Rule Bill—for I hope such a Bill will never pass—but by proposals from the mouth of a responsible Minister. Infinite difficulties have been thrown in our future way. The very foundations of our Constitution have, in my judgment, been shaken. But I certainly did not anticipate that amongst those evils we should have to lament the loss of our greatest Parliamentary privilege. But such is to be the case. Not only are we threatened with these revolutionary proceedings as regards our Institutions; we are going to set up a precedent which for all time will mar the efficiency and cloud the honour of this Assembly. And the wreck of the liberties of this Parliament is not the smallest part of that price which we have to pay for the temporary craze of a great Party. I recollect that the right hon. Gentleman commented in severe terms on the procedure we took in 1887. He described what had been done by the then majority, and he told his constituents in effect that Parliamentary liberties had been seriously threatened. I have spoken, indeed, in vain if I have not shown to the House that what we did in 1887 is no parallel and affords no excuse for what is attempted to be done now. Therefore, the words of the right hon. Gentleman, which he used on that occasion, may be quoted with a thousand fold effect to meet the present case. The right hon. Gentleman said on that occasion that our proposals of 1887 were an attempt 393To substitute a system of coercion for the ancient spirit, which left in the House of Commons an atmosphere, free and pure, worthy of Britons to breathe and consecrated by the re-collections of 600 years.If that spirit was endangered by our proposals of 1887, it is ruined and shattered, and does not leave a fragment behind it, by the proposal of the Prime Minister should it be accepted to-night.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said he rose to move, as an Amendment—To leave out from the first word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add "inasmuch as the Government of Ireland Bill proposes to frame and enact a new Constitution for Great Britain and Ireland, under which the constitutional rights of many of Her Majesty's subjects will be permanently and injuriously affected, this House declines to sanction a proposal which directly interferes with the free discussion of that measure by the Parliamentary Representatives of the people.He moved the Amendment as a Representative of that part of the people of Ireland which would be most prejudicially affected by the Resolution of the Prime Minister. The curtailment of debate, which affected every Member of the House, affected in a special manner the people represented by the majority of the Members coming from Ulster. The Prime Minister had practically based his proposals on the precedent set by the late Government on the Crimes Act of 1887, and the Leader of the Opposition had given several reasons why the one case differed very much from the other. But there was one reason which had not been mentioned. The Resolution proposed by the late Mr. Smith in 1887 was applied after the first six clauses of the Crimes Bill had been enacted. Those clauses were the main portion of the Bill, and covered almost everything of importance, and practically left nothing else but mere matters of procedure.
MR. T. W.RUSSELL
said, the Prime Minister told him that his statement was totally untrue. Well, he would read the clauses and leave the House to judge between him and the Prime Minister. The 1st clause covered secret inquiry; the 2nd covered the extension of summary jurisdiction; the 3rd and 4th covered special juries and change of venue; the fifth covered the proclamation of certain districts; 394 and the 6th contained the provisions dealing with dangerous Associations. Notwithstanding the interruption of the Prime Minister, he would say again that those clauses covered the main proposals of the Crimes Bill. As to the remaining clauses, the 9th and 10th had reference to the method of swearing special juries and the procedure on change of venue; the 11th and 12th regulated the procedure for dealing with offences against the Act; the 13th and 14th contained supplementary provisions for the proclamation of districts; and the 15th to 19th, which was the end of the Bill, regulated the allowances for witnesses, covered the rules of procedure, provided that the penalties were to be cumulative, and exempted Trade Unions. The last clause was a Definition Clause. Had the Prime Minister any right to assert that the statement he had made was an untruth? [Cries of "Withdraw!"]
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
denied that he had been inaccurate, totally, or at all. He would leave the House to judge of the matter. What had happened in 1887, when Mr. Smith's Resolution was put? What did the Front Opposition Bench do then? What happened? The occupants of the Front Opposition Bench marched out of the House declining to vote against Mr. Smith's Resolution. To-night the Opposition would not indulge in the histrionic performances that characterised the late Opposition on these questions. They, at all events, would have the courage of their opinions, and would vote against the Motion. In 1887 the Resolution was carried by a majority of 159. Why did the Opposition refuse to vote against it? In his opinion, the reason was that they knew that what had been said by a great authority was true—namely, that the conduct of the Debate on the Crimes Bill had been a disgrace to the House of Commons. The Prime Minister said the other day that the Crimes Act interfered with the Constitutional liberties of the Irish people, and that the House of Commons had a right to be very jealous on such a question. As a matter of fact, there was not a law-abiding citizen in Ireland who knew practically that the Crimes Act was on the Statute Book. No doubt it did interfere with liberties, but they were the 395 liberties of those who sought to intimidate others from doing that which they had a legal right to do—the liberties of the criminal, the moonlighter, the cattle maimer, and the liberties of bad men. Surely it was not to be called a great Constitutional question when an attempt was made by an extraordinary law to punish men who, owing to a conspiracy, could not be reached by the ordinary law. The Prime Minister had said that 19 or 20 nights were occupied with the Committee on the Crimes Bill. The right hon. Gentleman ought to remember, however, that no less than three full nights were occupied with the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair on that Bill. Adding these three nights, practically 23 nights were devoted to the Committee on the Crimes Bill. The House had been 27 days in Committee on the Irish Government Bill, and the subjects they had been discussing were the establishment of an Irish Legislature, the constitution of that Legislature, the exceptions to which that Legislature was to be subject, and the restrictions that were to be placed upon it. Ho asked the House whether it could be engaged upon more momentous subjects? They had been engaged in practically destroying an old Constitution and manufacturing a new one. This Resolution touched the people of Ulster and the minority in other parts of Ireland more than it touched the people of Great Britain. The property of those people which had been hitherto secured by the Imperial Parliament was being handed over to the legislative control of an Irish Legislature over which the Imperial Parliament would have no control whatever. The men who would control that Parliament would be men who had been convicted by competent tribunals in this country of wanton and illegal attacks upon the rights of property. Did anyone mean to say that under these circumstances hon. Members had not a right to discuss the proposals of the Government fully, freely, and openly? He himself had not spent altogether one hour of the time of the Committee, although his constituents were as much interested in the question as any people in the Three Kingdoms. There were 10 Ulster Members who had not even spoken in the Committee; and whoever had been guilty of obstruction, such a charge could 396 not be laid at the door of the Ulster Members, although those Members represented the minority of the Irish people. Not only the property, but the civil liberties of the minority in Ireland were at stake. The Government proposed to hand over to the Irish Legislature the power of suspending the Habeas Corpus Act. Was not that jeopardising the civil liberties of the people? They proposed also to hand over to the Irish Legislature the power of dealing with the membership of certain Societies in Ireland. To say that hon. Members had unduly discussed these proposals, and that the gag must be applied to them so that they should be prevented from discussing them, was taking a step which had never been taken before in the history of Parliament. The House was asked to set up a Supreme Court to define and settle great Constitutional questions. This was one of the greatest steps that this country could take. We had never had a written Constitution before nor had any such Court existed before. The Imperial Parliament had always been supreme in the past, and he said that when they were taking a new step, such as they were now asked to take, the greatest care ought to be taken and the fullest time given to the discussion of the matter. He had pointed out that in the Crimes Bill, which had been quoted as a precedent, there was nothing but procedure to be dealt with after Mr. Smith's Resolution was passed. What was there to be dealt with in the Government of Ireland Bill? The whole question of the Executive Body in Ireland had to be settled. This was a new question altogether. It had been pointed out in the Debate in Committee that Grattan's Parliament had no Executive. The House was setting up a Constitution for Ireland, and it had also to decide the question of the Constitution of Great Britain, because the settlement of the problem respecting the retention or dismissal of the Irish Members practically amounted to the creation of a new Constitution for Great Britain. The Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. J. Morley), speaking at Newcastle-upon-Tyne six years ago, declared that if a proposition such as that embodied in Clause 9 of this Bill were brought before the House of Commons not 20 Members 397 would be found to vote for it. The right hon. Gentleman's name, however, was on the back of the Bill which contained such a clause, and, forsooth, this was one of the questions upon which the gag was to be applied on the responsibility, amongst others, of the gentleman who declared in 1886 that not 20 Members would vote for so absurd a proposal. In addition to this, the whole question of the financial relations between Great Britain and Ireland were to be considered in Committee—relations which not a score of Members in the House understood at that moment. Members had had no opportunity of understanding them, because after one set of financial arrangements had been placed in the Bill, duly considered, and objected to, they were withdrawn. Then another set of arrangements was thrown on the Table, and the result was that very few Members understood the clauses, which involved large burdens upon the British taxpayer. These Financial Clauses the Committee was to be gagged upon also. The fate of the Irish Civil servants, the future of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and the transfer of the Post Office and Savings Banks were all dealt with in the later clauses of the Bill. Then there was a set of Schedules which proposed to gerrymander the Irish representation in the Irish Legislature and to gerrymander it at Westminster. Upon these proposals the Committee was also to be gagged. He saw no reason why such proposals should be hustled through the House of Commons. The Prime Minister had made no secret of the reason why they were to be hustled. The present step was being taken merely on the ground of Party expediency. The Government talked of a mandate from the constituencies. They never had such a mandate. The real truth of the matter was that the Prime Minister only obtained his small and vanishing majority because most of his supporters carefully kept the question of Home Rule in the background and put into the front of their programme other questions which they thought a great deal more of. It was the pressure of those other questions that had forced the Government to bring in this gagging Resolution. It seemed to him that the Ulster Members were to be coerced in the House of Commons and in Ireland mainly in order that Parish Councils 398 might be set up in England, and that Village Councils might have the opportunity of saying how often the parish pump was to be painted. The Government had brought in the Bill in order to place the Government in the hands of men who were silent when outrage stalked through Ireland and who pursued a system of intimidation and outrage which they knew led to crime, and for the purpose of handing the minority in Ireland over to an Organisation the doctrines of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt) once said in the House of Commons were the doctrines of assassination. This was bad enough; but to gag the Representatives of the Province of Ulster, to say that the spokesmen of these people, whose all was at stake in this Bill, were not to be free to express their views on the measure was to do a thing which had never been done before in the history of the Imperial Parliament. He had never been amongst those who had indulged in threats, either in the House or outside of it, in regard to proceedings in Ulster should this Bill be passed. He was glad to see the Chief Secretary assented to that statement. He had always said the Province of Ulster would be entitled to exhaust its Constitutional rights in opposing this Bill, and that she would spend her last shilling in doing it. He felt now, however, that the time had come when he was bound to say that, the Representatives of Ulster having been gagged, she would not be morally bound to recognise this Bill in any shape or form. Speaking with the fullest sense of responsibility, he said that, in his opinion, Ulster would be entitled not only to refuse to recognise the Irish Legislature, but to decline to pay taxes levied by its authority, and to decline to perform any of the duties of citizenship which that Legislature might impose upon her. He had never used such language before, but he used it now because he believed that the House was not only doing an injury to Ulster, but was doing it in an un-Constitutional manner; it was not only carrying a revolution, but was carrying it by revolutionary procedure. He should resist the proposal of the Government as far as he was able, and he was perfectly certain that, should the Bill become law, not only would it not be morally binding upon his constituents, but they would not obey it.
To leave out from the first word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add "inasmuch as the Government of Ireland Bill proposes to frame and enact a new Constitution for Great Britain and Ireland, under which the constitutional rights of many of Her Majesty's subjects will be permanently and injuriously affected, this House declines to sanction a proposal which directly interferes with the free discussion of that measure by the Parliamentary Representatives of the people."—(Mr. T. W. Russell.)
§ MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
said, that those who had listened to the Prime Minister's speech and carried in their minds a recollection of his attitude towards the Motion made in 1887 could not have failed to mark the great change which had come over his opinions. The Prime Minister on the present occasion thought it a sufficient argument to point out that the Business he wished the House to perform could not be carried out without strong and drastic measures. The right hon. Gentleman had not attempted to justify a condition of Business which might or might not be due to his own conduct in the House. Apparently, he arrogated to the Government the right to throw as much legislation as they wished at the Members of the House, and then to cast upon the House the responsibility of dragging them out of the difficulties they had themselves created. In 1887 the Prime Minister said—A Motion of this character might be held to justify a long review of the state of affairs and the arrangements of Business during the Session.Where had been the right hon. Gentleman's long review of the state of affairs, or his justification of the arrangement of Business during the Session? It was not surprising that nothing of the kind had been attempted. At the beginning of the Session a batch of measures of the first importance were flung at the head of Members and left upon the floor of the House. Since then the attention of the House had been confined to a single Bill. That Bill had been not only complex but kaleidoscopic in its character. Only yesterday the Prime Minister introduced two fresh clauses into the financial scheme of the Bill.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said, at all events there was in The Times of that morning a quarter of a column purporting to consist of new Amendments to be proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, and the Bill had been continually changing its form since its introduction. There was no parallel between the present case and that of 1887. The late Government claimed that they were supported not only by a large majority of the House, but by public opinion outside it when they closured the Crimes Bill Committee. Was it not notorious that public opinion was bitterly opposed to the present Government on this Bill? He asked the Government whether four or five, or six months, or a year, or even two years, would be too exorbitant a period to occupy in undoing the work of a whole century? The Prime Minister said the Crimes Act was an Act restraining liberty. This the Opposition did not accept; but, even if it were true, the right of an infinitesimal minority in Ireland to trial by jury for certain offences was the only right affected. Under this Bill the Government proposed to affect all the rights of 2,000,000 of the Queen's subjects. They were, according to these men's own testimony, robbing them of all the pleasure, all the pride, all the safety, and all the security they had hitherto enjoyed as subjects of the Queen. The onslaught upon liberty in the present case was greater beyond the power of expression than any interference with liberty which could be attributed to the late Government. The Prime Minister contended that in the discussion of such a measure the Opposition were to be brief beyond the brevity displayed by any former Opposition. In 1887, in dealing with the Crimes Act, the Prime Minister had saidYou must reckon on it as a certainty, and accept it as a thing just in itself, that long and minute discussion on such a measure will take place.Now, was it not equally certain and just in itself that long and minute discussion must take place on a great Constitutional change involving the liberties and rights of a considerable section of Her Majesty's subjects. Had there been long and minute discussion? There had not. 401 They had listened this afternoon to a mere recapitulation of the time spent on some of the greatest questions brought to the front in the Bill, and no one could pretend that the discussion had been long or minute. They had only had time to sketch broadly the objections that must be entertained to many of the provisions of the Bill. In 1887 it was admitted that the opponents of the measure were few. No one could maintain that the opponents of the Home Rule policy in the House were few. In 1887 it was admitted by the Leader of the Opposition that there had been a waste of time. No one would attempt to say that now there had been a deliberate waste of time. In 1887 the Front Opposition Bench made appeals to the Irish Members to confine their attention to important points. No such appeal had been made or was necessary now. But they had not only to consider and defend the conduct of the Opposition. He did not hold that it stood in need of defence. The Government had brought in a policy of a great Constitutional change, which the Opposition believed had not obtained the consent of a majority of the electors at the last Election. They might be wrong or right on that point. It might be that all who were returned as supporters of the Prime Minister were convinced Home Rulers, but there was no doubt that the great bulk of those who cast their votes could have no idea of all that was implied in a Bill of so wide a scope and character. The Members of that House were not absolved from the duty of bringing every light on every single clause of the Bill, and of showing all that was implicit in the provisions. The Prime Minister had forgotten his expedient for expediting business which he recommended to the House in 1887. In 1887 he criticised the policy he was now adopting, and he proposed in substitution for it, and recommended to the notice of the Leader of the House, the policy of concession to the Opposition. He had said that in that way the Crimes Bill, to which he was opposed heart and soul, would be passed through the House with greater rapidity if the Government would yield on points with which the Opposition had made good their case. What concession of that kind had the present Opposition obtained? The Prime Minister had declared that some of the Amendments 402 had been of small importance; but if that was so, why was not the Closure taken? If on the ground that they were frivolous, and if the Government had been willing to allow discussion to proceed along the ordinary lines of debate, frivolous Amendments and obstruction could have been stamped out, if it had taken place. He would make the Government a present of their precedents, and would draw their attention only to this one point: "What an odd day to choose," said the Duke of Wellington when the mob broke his windows on the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. He would invite attention to the originality of the point in the progress of the Bill which the Government had selected for bringing forward this Resolution. All that had been discussed hitherto—not at undue length, but adequately—was the old Bill, with which everyone was more or less familiar. It was the Bill which had been before the Government for seven years. But the point the Government chose for burking all Debate was their new departure from the old Bill. This, if a coincidence, was a strange one, and an unfortunate one for the Government. The 5th clause, which they were now asked to discuss in one week with Clauses 6, 7, and 8, contained new matter bearing upon the new Constitution for Ireland. As an English Member he, personally, was not deeply concerned in the question of what Government the Irish people were to live under in the future. He had no great care for the exact number of Councillors who were to direct their laws and preside over their liberties. As King James had said, "The more the merrier, the fewer the better cheer." But coming to the next Department of the Closure Resolution, every Member representing a British constituency had a right to protest against clauses from 9 to 26 being disposed of within five Parliamentary days. This part of the Bill was not only new, but the last thing out. They were not even now perfectly certain as to what the 9th clause was intended to be. On the 10th clause would come the legitimate Parliamentary opportunity for reviewing the financial policy of the Government with regard to the whole measure. Let the House note that these two clauses were those which most closely affected the interests of 403 Great Britain. The tactics of the Government with regard to them showed their subserviency to their Irish allies. These two parts of the Bill dealing with the retention of the Irish Members and the financial relations between the two countries could not by any possibility be said to arise out of, and follow as a matter of course, from the four clauses already passed. They were not corollaries or derivatives. The two policies of the measure—for they were nothing else—were incongruous, and they went to make the Bill the monster that it was, and it was to cover up this incongruity and the blunders they had committed in dealing with the representation of Ireland in the Imperial Parliament and the distribution of finance between the two countries that the Committee was called upon to forego all the privileges of debate, and to scamp the discussion on everything that nearly affected British interests. The Government were conscious that by their vacillation and hesitation in regard to these subjects they had murdered this Parliamentary representation, and between now and the 30th July the Committee were to assist at the hurried and clandestine burial of the corpse. He did not wish to be uncomplimentary, but he would say that by their policy the Government condemned the Irish Members in that House to parasitic functions. What was a parasite? A body living upon, but having a distinct and separate existence from, another body. If the Irish Members were to be retained here, their interests not being bound up with British interests, they would be degraded in character. Then, to show the novel character of the financial proposals, he had only to remind the House that, in the first Bill brought in at the beginning of the Session, the Prime Minister contemplated three modes of dealing with finance—a lump sum, or a quota, or the appropriation of a particular fund; but the plan now proposed in this chaotic series of Amendments was never before contemplated. This fourth device was no solution of the question at all. The contribution of Ireland was to have no reference to the demands of the Imperial Exchequer, but it was to be assessed solely on the power of Ireland to pay. That was a proposition so monstrous in regard to the 404 rights of the British taxpayer that he was not surprised that the Government wished to hurry it through without allowing the Opposition time to reveal its true character. It was a proposal new, incongruous, and unjust to England; and it was too preposterous to receive the sanction of the British electorate, and preposterous to believe that it ever would receive their sanction.
§ MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in the course of his speech, had said that his Party had supported the Bill patiently. No doubt they had done that, but he must say that, at the same time, they had succeeded in concealing their enthusiasm for the measure. The Prime Minister's proposals had been received with cheers from the Irish Benches and from his Radical supporters below the Gangway, but not his immediate supporters who sat behind him. The right hon. Gentleman spoke in a tone of righteous indignation because the majority in this Parliament could not forthwith do what it wanted; and he appeared to assume, as an indefeasible axiom, and as a first principle, that the majority in the House of Commons ought to be able, without long delay, to do anything it pleased. He (Mr. Smith) did not think that was the spirit in which the Business of Parliament had hitherto been carried on, either by Governments or Oppositions. Governments had felt that there were limits to what they could do; and Oppositions had felt that, when they had a strong public opinion behind them in the country, it was impossible for any Government to over-ride them. That would be found to be the case now. They on the side of the Union had the majority of Great Britain with them, and it was only right that it should be brought home to the Prime Minister and his supporters that the course of Business should correspond with the truth and reality which would show itself in due time in the country. This Bill, as had been stated, was an attempt to do far more than had been attempted by any Bill that had been before Parliament this century. It was an attempt to introduce a new Constitution, not for Ireland only, but for the United Kingdom. In this country such a change could be made by a simple vote 405 of Parliament in the way that a Bill—even the smallest measure—could be passed. We did not, in theory, recognise those distinctions, which in other countries were so clearly understood, between fundamental changes in the Constitution and small pieces of casual legislation. ["Hear, hear!"] The Prime Minister seemed to think it an unheard-of and astonishing thing that a Government, with a majority of from 29 to 31, should carry through straightway a Bill of this character. He knew what things stood in the way of any such scheme in foreign countries—that it took years and constant arduous efforts before changes could be effected in the Constitution. In France a change in the Constitution could be made only by a majority of the two Houses sitting together. In Germany a proposal to alter the Federal Constitution could be defeated by the votes of 14 out of a total of 60 Members; and, further, no change affecting a particular State could be passed without the assent of that State. In Switzerland, when both Houses had agreed upon a change, it was subject to the Referendum, and must be approved by a majority of the electors and also of the cantons. If one House only proposed a change, and it was endorsed by the popular vote, there must then be a dissolution, and the question came up for discussion before a new Assembly. These were the limitations which some Continental countries had put upon proposals for less important and far-reaching than that before the Parliament of the United Kingdom. But a far stronger set of difficulties were imposed in the United States. A State Constitution could be changed only by a specially-summoned Convention, whose decision had to be endorsed by the popular vote. An amendment to the Federal Constitution must be carried by a majority of two-thirds in both Houses and ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the States. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in his book on the American Commonwealth, quoted the declaration of Mr. Seth Low, an eminent American publicist, who said—Written Constitutions in the nation and in each of the States protect at once the individual, the State, and the nation from hasty and ill-considered action on the part of majorities as to matters fundamental. Laws may be passed 406 by majorities and may be removed by majorities but majorities cannot change in a moment the fundamental relations of Government to the people. In other words, written Constitutions interpose effectual bars of delay to the passions and the prejudices of the people. The people have it in their power in the United States, as surely as in England, to change even the fundamental features of Government. But they cannot do this under the impulse of a mere whim. They can do it only by prolonged and intelligent effort directed to this end through a series of years.That was the protection the United States enforced against changes of this kind. The Prime Minister had said that the powers of Parliament were limited to the revolutions of the earth—that they were limited to a twelvemonth. He (Mr. Smith) did not know why that should be so. Why should the right hon. Gentleman imagine that the powers of Parliament were limited in the case of a Bill of this vast size? He did not know that there was any reason in the nature of things why, when they came to the end of the year, the House should prorogue, or why it should not adjourn, or why it should not carry its Business over from one Session to another just as Private Bills were sometimes hung up—hung up and resumed at the stage at which they had been left. The precedent which had been frequently referred to was that of 1887, but the distinction between the present occasion and 1887 was that, although the proposal of the Government was objected to, it was generally acknowledged that it was only reasonable that the discussion should come to an end within the time mentioned by the Government. When the matter came to a Division the bulk of the Liberal Party retired from the House and declined to vote. Dr. Playfair, a supporter of the Government, in regard to that proceeding, had said—He did not say that seven days were not sufficient to allow for the discussion of the remaining clauses of the Bill; but he should vote against the Resolution on the ground that, from the manner of its introduction and the absence of safeguards in it, it formed a most dangerous precedent for the future conduct of the Business of the House.Another gentleman drew a picture still more like what was now happening—namely, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt), who was then in Opposition. He said—He would paint a picture which he was sure would edify the Chancellor of the Exchequer. 407 He suggested to him a possible future when there might be a Liberal Administration numbering, say, 340, and there might be a Conservative Party of 330. There might be some great Constitutional measure—perhaps Home Rule—and there might be a Minister standing at the Table, and saying—'I shall introduce to-morrow a Home Rule Bill, and I shall accompany it by a declaration that the Third Beading shall be taken this day fortnight; the subject has been discussed for many years; the Amendments you have put down to the measure are frivolous; your resistance to it is obstructive; you are standing in the way of a great reform; you are opposing the business of the nation; it is our duty as a majority to assert the rights of the nation, and to see that the Home Rule Bill is carried in a fortnight.'That was the prophecy of the right hon. Gentleman—that was what he held up as a dreadful warning to the Government in regard to the passing of the Motion that was then before the House. That came as near to the present state of circumstances as a definite prophecy given seven years before the event could come, and he (Mr. Smith) should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman was now reconciled to the consequences that he himself predicted. He did not wish to criticise the Resolution in detail, that being a matter which would come afterwards; but he might say that, whilst there was a maximum limit given to the discussion of the Bill, there was no minimum limit at all. There was nothing in the Resolution, and hitherto there had been no pledge given by the Government which would prevent them from setting down Supply for any day they liked during this period of a month. No doubt it was their intention to give the Opposition the full benefit of the time, but circumstances might arise which would render it necessary in the interests of the country that one, or two, or three nights should be taken up by discussions on some pressing subject or other. Some important foreign question might crop up which it might be necessary for the House to consider. There was no provision in the Resolution for that, and who could tell that such a contingency might not arise within the next month? It might be said, "We can see a week ahead—the prospects are clear for this Bill," but who could prophecy that the whole of the month would be free from the interruptions that sometimes arose? Then, the Government had not absolute control over the Business of the House. The 408 Government often proposed, but 40 Members could dispose. Some gentleman might rise and move the Adjournment of the House in order to call attention to some matter of pressing importance, and half the evening might go very much against the will of the Government. What was to prevent some supporter of the Government—some Irish Member, say—from suddenly discovering that questions were becoming urgent? Hitherto, of course, such Member had refrained from that step in his desire to advance the Bill; but now that there was a fixed limit to the length of the discussion, he could do no harm to the Bill by getting up and speaking the whole evening on such a subject as the Irish administration. How were they to know that there might not be matters of this kind pressing on the minds of hon. Members? Again, why were the Unionist Members to give up their right to move the Adjournment of the House if anything occurred to them of serious import—why were they to feel that in so doing they were depriving themselves of a portion of the very inadequate time that had been given to them? Again, hitherto the opponents of the Bill had had pretty much a monopoly of speech upon it, the defence having been merely official; but now there was no reason why every supporter of the measure should not give the Committee his views on every question that arose. The Opposition might only have half the time allowed by the Government. It seemed to him that the best course the Government could take would be to allow the Committee a certain amount of Parliamentary time, and instead of saying the discussion on a set of clauses should finish at such and such an hour, on such and such a day, they should say the discussion on each set of clauses should not occupy more than so many hours of Parliamentary time. In that many Members would know where they were. He understood the impatience that was felt in this matter in the first place, among a great many new Members who were accustomed to resolutions of their Party caucuses, and who thought it just as easy to pass a thing into law as it was on a platform to pass a resolution in favour of Home Rule without any responsibility at all. There were other gentlemen of more Parliamentary experience whose impatience he 409 could understand. There were those Members whose voices they were accustomed to in the last Parliament, who were extremely active and who put themselves very much in evidence, and who now found themselves reduced to silence and insignificance. They would not take the trouble to master the questions before them and give the Committee their views and judgments on them, but, in their inability to bring forward their fads, felt impatient with the slow progress of the Bill. But he must say he was disappointed that the Prime Minister and the Members of the Cabinet had fallen in with views of this kind. They must realise more than any other Members the magnitude of the task that was before them. That had been making itself felt during the progress of the Bill in Committee. The enormous size of the undertaking was much more apparent now than at the earlier stages of the Bill, audit was not imputing an unfair development to the views of the Cabinet to say that they, too, during these long Debates in Committee must have seen more clearly than they did before how enormous the Bill was. As they had dealt with the Bill their views had become less and less ambitious. In 1886 the boon put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was the boon of finality. With a light heart he undertook in one single Session to deal with the question of Home Rule and the Irish land. They were told they should have the whole thing settled for ever if they accepted these Bills, and that they should get rid of the Irish Members out of the House and be troubled no more with the obstruction that then weighed so heavily upon them. But what a change since those rosy days! Long ago the prospect of settling the Land Question was given up. That now stood over for at least three years. The questions of finance and the retention of the Irish Members stood over for six years. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had taken to the system of drawing accommodation bills on the future at six years' date, and his majority were prepared to endorse them, and thought that six years was a long way off. It was not only on these questions but on others that there was a tendency to throw over unsettled matters and to say, "Oh, they will be settled in due time 410 when the Irish Legislature is started and is working." That did not seem to him the way to make a Constitution that would work, and still less was it the way to pass over whole batches of clauses in the Bill itself with no discussion at all. There was only one justification which right hon. Gentlemen could offer for that conduct, and that was that they had not the slightest expectation or hope of the Bill ever passing into law. They knew the Bill could not become law, and that being so it was hardly worth while wasting the time of the House upon it. Let them send a dummy Bill to the House of Lords—and, in truth, this Bill, when it was passed, would be very little more than a dummy Bill. It was a Bill acknowledged to have no working capacity in it, and to be merely a statement of what the intentions of the Government were. He believed that if they were to pass a Bill of this kind at all they ought to pass a real, working, genuine Bill. They ought to impress on the nation the size and seriousness of the work on which they were engaged; and he thought that this scheme of the Government for cutting short the Debate would make the Bill still more unreal. It was because he thought that the discussion ought to be a bonâ fide one that he was altogether against the Resolution.
§ MR. ROSS (Londonderry)
said, he did not think that any Member of the House could have heard the Prime Minister-however he might be opposed to the policy of the right hon. Gentleman—without a feeling of commiseration. The Prime Minister was the greatest Parliamentarian of our time, and yet it had been his fate to propose a Motion which would inflict greater injury on Parliamentary liberty than any procedure that had been brought forward in the House within living memory. He could not believe that that step had been taken by the right hon. Gentleman on his own initiative. The right hon. Gentleman was too sensitive to Parliamentary traditions and too observant of the rights of Parliamentary discussion ever to have originated that Motion himself. He believed the right hon. Gentleman had yielded to pressure from below, for it was well-known that a certain amount of pressure had been applied to the right hon. Gentleman by Nationalist Members 411 whose interest it was to suppress discussion on the Home Rule Bill as much as possible. Pressure had also been brought to bear on the Prime Minister from another quarter. From time to time questions had been put to the right hon. Gentleman by hon. Members who evidently had never studied this Home Rule Question as it ought to have been studied, and were wholly incapable of dealing with so important a subject, pressing the right hon. Gentleman to bring the discussions on the Bill to a speedy termination. There was only one thing that could justify such an extreme and unprecedented action as the Motion before the House, and that was if a case could be made out of real Parliamentary obstruction. But that charge had not been distinctly made by the Prime Minister, and he would like to know would it be distinctly made by any responsible Member of the Government? So far as the Members from Ulster are concerned, nobody could complain of their action in the Debates. Their people were tremendously affected by the provisions of the Bill, and yet not one of them, notwithstanding all the Amendments that had been moved, had consumed more than an hour altogether in their discussion. For himself he had occupied much less than an hour; that was also true of many of his colleagues from Ulster, and a number of them had not spoken at all. Having regard to the extreme importance of the matters discussed, any person who said that an undue amount of time of the House had been taken up, did not know what he was talking about. The Government, in bringing forward this Home Rule, were trying, at all events, a tremendous experiment—an experiment which the Ulster Members had warned the Government could not be forced on a people so devoted to liberty as the people of Ulster without the exercise of tremendous force and without, very probably, great loss of life. But supposing the Ulster Members were wrong in these apprehensions, the Government were now by this Motion destroying all chance of the Bill ever being accepted by the people of Ulster. The people of Ulster felt alarm and indignation when the Bill was first introduced; but that was nothing to the alarm and indignation which they would feel when they knew that the Government were 412 stifling discussion; that they were preventing their Representatives from being heard, and that they were preventing the real meaning of the clauses of the Bill from being put before the country. Who could ever have believed that it was the intention of the Government to give the Irish Legislature power by a one-line Act to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act? Professions had been made by Gladstonian Members to their constituents that they would never agree to any Home Rule Bill which did not preserve the rights of the majority; and yet they had given to the Irish Legislature the power of throwing any man into prison without rhyme or reason by simply suspending the Habeas Corpus Act. He believed that the Prime Minister would never have got a majority if that one consideration had been placed before the electorate of Great Britain. A more startling revolution had never been made. There were in Ireland two hostile races, a majority and a minority, and they gave power to the majority to suspend at one blow the entire liberties of the minority. Again, it had been elicited from the Government that the great University of Ireland—the only great English success in Ireland, for it was admitted to be a success by all sides—was to be handed over to those who had been continually threatening its existence. Had that circumstance been placed by hon. Gentlemen opposite before their constituents? Had they told their constituents that they would be content with a mere declaration in the Bill of the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament, without any effective means of making that supremacy felt in case of necessity? He believed that those matters would have influenced the decision of a large body of the electorate. The Government were in power by virtue of a diminishing majority of less than 40; and if only 800 persons had voted the other way the Government would not have had a majority at all. And yet that was the Government which was now proposing to destroy the right of debate in the House. The Prime Minister had admitted that they were dealing with an enormous subject. They were pulling down a great old building which had been erected by the tremendous exertions of their ancestors, and they were putting in its place a building which was a work 413 of greater difficulty still. No one, indeed, could deny the enormous character of the task on which they were engaged. Persons who entered upon such a task should allow themselves plenty of time for its accomplishment. The only excuse of the Government for their Motion was that they desired to get to their Parish Councils Bill and other Bills, which were absolutely trifling in importance when compared with the measure before the House. The Home Rule Bill should never have been brought forward if they were unable to devote plenty of Parliamentary time to its consideration. When was this Motion brought forward? At a time when they had not reached the more important parts of the Bill, and when they were acknowledging the justice of the criticisms made from the Opposition Benches, when the Government were receiving help in the construction of their work, and yet all that was stopped by a threat from the Irish Benches. A threat was thrown out that they must accept no more Amendments, and there and then the sleigh was broken and no more Amendments were accepted, and this was the time when this Motion to throttle free discussion was brought forward by the Government. What remained? They had yet to discuss the Financial Clauses; they had yet to discuss the all-important and almost insoluble Land Question; the retention or non-retention of the Irish Members in the Imperial Parliament; the retaining possession of the police, and all these tremendous subjects were to be screwed into three weeks' discussion. A more monstrous proposition was never made in any civilised Assembly; it was absolutely unprecedented; it was impossible to argue on the other side at all, and no wonder there was a grave disposition on the part of right hon. Gentlemen opposite to maintain a graceful silence, because no one could speak in support of the Motion with anything like self-respect. The argument in support of the Motion showed it in an absurd light—namely, that it was in accordance with precedent that a similar course of procedure was taken on the Crimes Act. They knew in Ireland that unless a change in criminal procedure was brought about, that further disorder would be produced; they knew there was no liberty in the country at the time; that Parliament 414 was baffled by the most outrageous obstruction known in history, and that strong measures must be taken to meet it, and yet that was taken as a precedent for stifling discussion on this Bill. If they considered the time taken in the discussion of the Amendments that had been passed no one could think it too long; 58 days were taken for the discussion of the Land Act of 1881. Did anyone say that was too long? And yet what a trifle that was as compared to the present Bill. If they stifled discussion in this House they would not be able to stifle it elsewhere; they were driving discussion to the public platforms where it would be impossible to apply the Closure, and where it would be impossible to prevent them putting before the people of England and Scotland the way in which they, the Representatives of a free people, had been treated in regard to this Bill. For seven years the Government suppressed the Bill; and now that they were testing it by Amendments, the Government, after a short discussion, proceeded to stifle discussion altogether. If they wanted to arouse public indignation the Government could not have taken a better means than they had. The discussion during the rest of the Bill would be simply a mockery, because no one with any appreciation of the importance of the clauses yet to be dealt with could imagine it was possible to discuss the clauses adequately within the time limited by the Government. The Government might as well have closured everything at once and directed the Bill to be reported at the end of next week. For these reasons he supported the Amendment that had been moved by his hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), and he warned the Government that the course they were taking was a course that would result in their being thrown from power on the first opportunity.
MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
said, it would not be inopportune for a private Member on that side of the House, who took an independent view of the Bill, to venture a few observations upon the course proposed by the Government. The proposal of the Government was to divide the Bill into four parts or sections; to take those four sections within four periods of time. What would be the effect of that? Towards the end, or at 415 the end of each period of time, important subjects must necessarily be under consideration, and those important proposals would be guillotined, and when they arrived at the fourth period a very large number of new clauses proposed by independent Members would be entirely excluded from consideration. Even the subjects that were taken would have to be dealt with without sufficient investigation and with very little discussion. He did not know what the hon. Gentleman who led the smaller section of the Irish Party would say. The effect would be to exclude a good deal of what that hon. Gentleman would like to say on the Financial Clauses, and if he had any new clauses to propose he would be effectually prevented from doing so. Such a course as the Government proposed could only properly be carried out after such a full, complete, and exhaustive discussion of the whole Bill as would enable a selection and arrangement of the clauses by which the important questions should be considered and the unimportant questions cut out. But what became of the efficacy of the ordinary Closure arrangement? What a commentary this was on the Rules of the House with reference to the Closure! He was under the impression that unimportant subjects could under existing rules be closured and got rid of, and that important subjects coming on in their turn could have afforded to them opportunities for discussion. The proposed guillotining was, in effect, opposed to the present Rules of Procedure established to facilitate the discussion and transaction of Business in the House. If the course proposed by the Government were adopted he saw no other result but a re-arrangement of the whole of their procedure for the transaction of Business. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government justified this new proposition by what he contended was the urgency of the question, and indirectly by the alleged obstruction that the Bill had received. Now, with reference to the urgency of the question, he quite admitted that the measure was the Government measure of the Session, but he failed to see that it had that special urgency, that it was necessary to get it through in this Session, or to get it through by any particular time. There was no comparison between this Bill and the Bill to which reference had 416 been made—the Crimes Bill. Without discussing the propriety or impropriety of that Act, it must be admitted that it was necessary from the character of the measure that it should be dealt with promptly. It was an Act dealing with a simple problem; but to suggest that the Home Rule Bill dealt with a simple problem, or that it was necessary to deal with it at this immediate time, was a proposition which was insulting to their intelligence. If it was necessary to deal with the Bill with such great expedition, how was it that they were not told what the Bill was likely to be during the six years that elapsed between 1886 and 1892; how was it that they were not told what the Bill was to be in the six months during which the Government were in Office before they met in Parliament? Then, as to obstruction, he was bound to say that, as far as he could see, there had been very little of what might be called real obstruction. He dared say some comparatively unimportant Amendments had been discussed a little too fully—[Cries of "No, no!"]; he dared say speeches had been occasionally a little discursive "No, no!"]—but those discursive speeches had not been exclusively confined to those who opposed the Bill. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench had thought it necessary to range over a wide field in dealing with their opponents. The Bill, however, raised questions of large application, and it was necessary that these questions should be fully discussed. Inasmuch as the Bill had not been before the country for consideration, and inasmuch as it had been largely changed since its introduction, it was only reasonable that it should be subjected to full and, if they liked, to even exhaustive criticism, in order that the country might appreciate its provisions, and in order that when the next Bill came to be prepared the Government might have the benefit of the criticisms which had been expended upon this. There had been no such obstruction as would justify such a drastic proposal to shorten discussion as was provided by the Resolution before the House. They were told that there was a mandate from the country. Was that mandate for this particular Bill? The right hon. Gentleman rather qualified that to-night, because he said "To deal with this measure is the com- 417 mission imposed upon us by the constituencies." To deal with it? That might mean to consider it; that might mean to revise it; it did not necessarily mean to pass it in the form in which it was presented to the House. The constituencies did desire that, if possible, this Irish Question should be dealt with, but the constituencies had not had before them the lines of this Bill, and had had no opportunity of considering the propositions which it contained. The Bill should, therefore, be fully discussed, in order that the full scope and bearing of its provisions, not merely upon Irish, but upon Imperial, affairs might be brought to the mind of the country. The Home Secretary had unequivocally, and on more than one occasion between 1886 and 1892, suggested that it was desirable that the details of the measure should be laid before the country, and the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) enunciated the same proposition, but it was not listened to. He was rather surprised that the hon. Member sat so still and remained so quiet at the present time when the House was doing what he suggested the country should do some time ago. The Home Rule proposals which were before the country after 1886 were of a varied character. They took the form of a "Gas and Water Bill," and gradually expanded till they reached a large measure of practical independence. The country voted upon an uncertain and undefined programme of Home Rule. Some Members were elected pledged to vote for a very limited Home Rule, others for a more effective, but still a moderate, Home Rule, and others, again, for anything which the present Prime Minister might propose. The Bill was brought in, but the Bill was not adhered to; the Bill had been modified. A large part of the Bill was thrown upon the Table for the consideration and advice of the House. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, stated in reference to several very important provisions, that he relied on the advice and assistance of the House in dealing with them. But the Bill had assumed an entirely different scope within the last few days. The financial proposals of the right hon. Gentleman had materially altered the whole scope 418 and character of the measure. There had been a sort of shifting policy, and, for aught they knew now, there might be larger alterations yet to be made in the Bill. He expected, in due course, the Government would drop what was called the "in-and-out" clause, and there might be other large additions and alterations yet to be discussed. With a Bill of this kind it seemed absurd to suppose it could be amended properly under a process such as the one suggested—of dividing the Bill into four sections. He knew there was a certain amount of impatience on the part of certain Members sitting on his own side of the House; they remembered the pledges and promises they made to their constituents. [Cheers.] He appreciated what was intended by that cheer, but, so far as he was concerned, he would say, "Let the galled jade wince, my withers are unwrung." He had distinctly refused to pledge himself to vote for any Bill which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) or anyone else might introduce until he had seen it; and, more than that, he never advocated anything that went beyond what the right hon. Gentleman himself had described as a wise extension of the principle of local self-government.
MR. T. H. BOLTON
said, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Marjoribanks) paired him for the Second Reading, which was the same thing. At the Foreign Office in 1866 he heard the Prime Minister, quoting the opinion of a great authority upon Parliamentary procedure, say that a Member might vote for the Second Reading of a Bill on the understanding that it should be amended in Committee, and if the Bill was not so amended then he was at perfect liberty to vote against it on Third Reading. Like many others on those Benches, his support was recorded in favour of the Second Reading, because he was in favour of the principle of handing over purely local affairs to be managed in Ireland by the Representatives of the Irish people. That position was not inconsistent with the proposition that this should be done with reservations and subject to conditions, and that, if satisfactory Amendments were not made in the Bill, a vote might be recorded against the Third Reading. It was because he could see 419 no prospect of amending the Bill, so as to bring it within the lines which he deemed to be safe and satisfactory, that he had opposed it in Committee. It was because he could see no such prospect that it would be his painful duty to continue to oppose it. What were they there for in Committee except to discuss it in detail? He was aware of the difficulties of the Government. He knew, too, that there were men on that side of the House who sympathised with the views which he himself entertained. But the Government, as a body, dared not concede them, because they were in the hands of hon. Members from Ireland, and were afraid to make the most reasonable concessions for fear of incurring the displeasure of those hon. Members. The Government had not made any very large concessions, but such concessions as they had made had evoked the displeasure of hon. Members on the Benches opposite.
MR. T. H. BOLTON
said, they had not, at all events, shown much approval, for when the slightest concession of a practical and effective character had been made, the Irish Members had got up and told the Government that they had not been consulted, that they did not consent, and that the Government were giving way to their opponents, to their false friends, and all that sort of thing. A great deal of discussion might have been avoided if the Government had accepted some even unimportant Amendments. The Government admitted that some of them were unimportant, and in some cases desirable; but instead of displaying a concessive spirit—instead of meeting them as Governments generally had met such Amendments—this Government looked with nervous anxiety towards the Irish Members, and had been afraid to make the concessions which their own common-sense and reason dictated to them as being reasonable. A considerable amount of time had thus been wasted through the Government standing out against reasonable propositions made to amend the Bill. He knew that hon. Gentlemen on those Benches were rather anxious because the Session was passing and a good many of the items in the New- 420 castle Programme remained yet to be considered, and nothing could be done until this Irish Question was got out of the way. That was the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government; and, therefore, hon. Gentlemen there were forced to vote for portions of this measure they were dissatisfied with in order to get the question out of the way. ["Name name!"]
MR. T. H. BOLTON
felt bound to tell the right hon. Gentleman that in practice he was not acting up to what he professed. The right hon. Gentleman had in very emphatic language laid down the doctrine that all Members of Parliament were on an equality in that House, and, therefore, he was surprised to hear him say "Take no notice." If it was "Take no notice" of argument, that might be the doctrine of the Gladstonian Party, and it had now high authority; but if they were to take no notice of the arguments advanced by Members upon questions in that House, it was very difficult to understand the object for which they came there. Even the most unimportant Members of that House had a right to express their opinions. He did not very frequently trouble the House with speeches, but he claimed the right to state his views, and more especially did he claim the indulgence of the House and of the right hon. Gentleman when he was now in the position—not altogether an agreeable one—of criticising the proposals of a Government whose measures he would be glad to be able to support. He know this "Take no notice" echoed the idea which prevailed in portions of that House. A modern Gladstonian Member seemed to have no idea of his duty beyond this: that he was to make a House, keep a House, cheer the Minister, incessantly call "Divide!" and move the Closure whenever his opponents were saying anything which it was unpleasant for his friends to hear. The process of operating by way of the guillotine upon these Amendments must necessarily have the effect not only of impairing freedom of debate, upon which that House had prided itself, but at the same time of sacrificing important propositions which ought to be discussed and considered by that House. 421 But what was it for? Was it for the purpose of rushing through a Bill which even its friends admitted could not possibly become law? He read in a paper which was strongly advocating the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, The Daily Chronicle, in its issue of the previous day, the statement that everybody knew the present scheme was not the absolutely final shape in which the Irish Constitution would be cast, and the writer of the article went on to complain of the delay, and said that the House must be aware that they were debating a Bill which would not pass. Well, if they were really discussing not this particular Bill, but the large Irish question with the view of arriving at an understanding so that a Bill might be prepared which would be likely to pass, surely any process such as the right hon. Gentleman now proposed, to cut short and prevent discussion, must necessarily be unjustifiable. The right hon. Gentleman was a great Parliamentary tactician, and probably knew what would suit his friends from a Party point of view; but he ventured to say that in the country, when it came to be appreciated that the effect of this Resolution was that no discussion was to be given to important questions raised by this Bill, there would be great dissatisfaction with the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman. He was bound to say that if measures were to be pushed through that House without full discussion, and if large propositions of government and policy were decided upon under processes such as were involved in this proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, the other House would be more than justified in exercising its undoubted legal right of rejecting the Bill. He wished always to speak of the Prime Minister with that profound respect to which his great position entitled him; but, with all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he ventured to say the course which the right hon. Gentleman proposed was one which, in his humble judgment, would not conduce to the dignity and authority of the House, or the satisfactory transaction of its business, and would give the strongest possible reason for the other House sending back the Bill, not only for their further consideration, but 422 for the further consideration of the country.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
said, the question the country would ask in considering the proposition which the Government had laid before the House was, What was the urgency of this question? There had been no proofs advanced during the discussion of that evening that a hasty decision on the Government of Ireland Bill was urgent in any sense except one—that of Party expediency. The Cabinet itself was at the present moment being closured, not by its own better judgment in this matter, but by the pressure of the Radical wire-pullers throughout the country. They realised the fact that the last Elections were won not upon any definite scheme of Home Rule, not even upon the general principle of Home Rule itself, but by a variety of proposals with regard to legislation for England and Scotland, which were familiarly known as the Newcastle Programme. The Radical wire-pullers were becoming anxious and alarmed at the fact that no progress had as yet been made with British legislation. They entirely ignored the fact that the Prime Minister had put before the House the greatest measure of Constitutional change and revolution that had been proposed in the present century. To them it was nothing that this Home Rule Bill proposed to undo the work of 100 years, and reverse the tendency to unity and consolidation which had been proceeding in this country for 1,000 years. They only regarded the advantage of their Party, and they had pressed upon the Cabinet the necessity for finishing this discussion, not because the discussion had been ample and satisfactory, but because in their interests before the constituencies and electors in this country it was necessary they should be able to point to the passing of some measure of British legislation this Session. The measure which was now before the House, he ventured to say, was sufficient to occupy the time of a whole Session. It was a measure which proposed practically to dissolve the Union between England and Ireland, to undo the work of unity which had been going on since 1800, to set up a fresh Constitution for Ireland, and largely to alter the Constitu- 423 tion of this country and the relations of the Imperial Parliament towards Ireland, so that he believed no man in his rational moments would deny that such a measure was worthy the consideration of a whole Session. But what had been the policy of the Government? They were not satisfied with bringing forward this measure during the present Session, but they had brought forward the First Readings of half a dozen other Bills, calculated in their opinion to attract the British electorate; and finding from the testimony of their friends in the country that the Liberal electors were getting alarmed and annoyed at the delay in the English legislation, they were now determined to guillotine this measure of Constitutional change. The question arose, had the time consumed in the consideration of this Bill been excessive? The First Reading occupied four days; the Second Reading 12, and, so far, they had been 27 days in Committee. [An hon. MEMBER: 28.] He was willing to throw in one or two extra days. In those 28 days the House had had under consideration the questions of the establishment of an Irish Legislature, its Constitution, powers, and restrictions upon its powers. He did not believe that even the supporters of the Prime Minister would consider that the Committee stage had been unduly prolonged if they reflected upon the gravity of the subjects that had been discussed. They had discussed subjects connected with the relation of the Crown to Ireland, the Viceroy, the Army and Navy, peace and war, the police, trade and bounties, Treaties and foreign relations, treason, alienage, conspiracy and combination, Criminal Law, trade marks, merchant shipping, insurance, bankruptcy, banks, bills of exchange, Judges, Magistrates, armed drilling, the Irish Constabulary, trial by jury, the freedom of the Press, and the right of public meeting. Was there any man outside the House who would say that these subjects did not deserve consideration during 27 days, or practically what was less than 150 hours? The Government complained that there had been undue discussion upon that Bill, undue delay and waste of time. He ventured to say that the Government themselves were largely responsible for that delay. Over and over again the Prime Minister 424 had, after a prolonged discussion, and after refusing to accept Amendments which were pressed upon the House with great power of argument, ultimately conceded these propositions, and accepted these Amendments. In illustration of this he referred to the first Amendment moved to that Bill with the object of inserting in the operative part words declaring the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. The Prime Minister resisted those words—
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
was sorry to have disturbed the repose of the right hon. Gentleman; but, as a matter of fact, he resisted those words during eight days of that Committee.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, the Prime Minister was now committing himself to. a statement which he was sure he would regret if he examined the course of the Debate during those eight days. He repeated his statement. On the first day of the Committee his hon. Friend the Member for Deptford moved an Amendment declaring the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament, and it was vigorously resisted—
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
asked, did the right hon. Gentleman think he had finished the catalogue of the resistance of the Prime Minister? He did not say that that particular Amendment occupied eight days of Parliamentary time, or that the Prime Minister delayed the Committee by refusing this proposition during the whole of those eight days. What he said was that on the first meeting of the Committee his hon. Friend the Member for Deptford proposed an Amendment declaring the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. That Amendment and subsequent Amendments to the same effect were resisted, and it was not until the eighth day that the Prime Minister gave way and accepted the almost verbally equivalent words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury, and five out of those eight days of Parliamentary debate were wasted, owing to the indecision and shuffling of the Government with regard to that question.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
was prepared to prove it to the right hon. Gentleman by going through the Amendments day after day. He was prepared privately to prove it to him. [Mr. J. MORLEY: No, no!] The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly within his rights in refusing an offer of that kind; but if he (Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett) cared to occupy the time of the House by going through the Amendments seriatim he could prove that five days of the time of the Committee were occupied in discussing this question of Imperial supremacy, and it was not until the end of the eighth evening that, under pressure from his own side, the Prime Minister accepted the words proposed by the right hon. Member for Bury. Those five days were wasted by the action of the Prime Minister. Other periods were also wasted. Had the Prime Minister forgotten his action with regard to the future of the Royal Irish Constabulary? How he wavered, hesitated, and shifted from side to side during a whole evening's Debate, and in the end admitted that the Opposition were right, and consented to modify the Bill? Had he forgotten the Debate on the question of religion and education with reference to undue preference? Had he forgotten that discussion, which lasted nearly two days, and which was almost entirely due to the inability of the Government to make up their own minds, or explain what they meant, or define what they intended to do with regard to religion and education in this Bill? He was reminded by the Leader of the Opposition that they did not now know what the Government intended to do, but they had promised to bring in words explaining "undue preference." Had the right hon. Gentleman forgotten the extraordinary waste of time caused by the Government in the Debate on "due process of law?" At first they said these words could not by human ingenuity be defined; then the Solicitor General tried to define them, and failed; and, ultimately, they inserted words which were intended to convey that this due process was intended to be carried out in accordance with precedent. Two days of the time of this Committee were thus wasted by the extraordinary 426 ignorance of the Government as to the meaning of the words of their own Bill. The Government had themselves admitted that a large portion of Clause 4 was inadequately and incorrectly drawn, and that it would have to be remodelled. As it now stood it meant exactly the reverse of what they wished it to mean. Had they forgotten their line with regard to the question of Denominational Colleges and schools in Ireland? Had they forgotten how, during the greater portion of the discussion on Clause 4, they led the House and the country to believe that there was no power for the Irish Parliament to set up a denominational system of education? He believed that was, indeed, the impression of the Government themselves until pressure was put upon them by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, acting under the direction of Archbishop Walsh; and on the last day of this discussion the Prime Minister, in very uncertain and equivocal words, admitted more or less that he believed it might be in the power of the Irish Legislature to set up a system of denominational education, and Roman Catholic Denominational Colleges to be paid for out of national funds. The Government were, therefore, largely to blame for a great portion of the time which had been consumed in the Committee on this Bill. So much for the past. What did the Government propose with regard to the future? To closure this Bill in four sections; and they proposed to do it in such a way that it was absolutely impossible, but that a very large portion of the most important questions which remained to be considered would have to be passed without any discussion at all. What was the first section? It dealt with the Executive and its powers, with the Lord Lieutenant and the veto—one of the most difficult and delicate questions connected with the Bill—with the composition and election of the Irish Legislature, and the question of disagreement between the two Houses. It was impossible that such questions could be satisfactorily discussed, or even discussed at all, in five days—that was in less than 30 hours of the time of the House. If the proposal to closure the first section was absurd, what was to be said of the proposal to closure the second section? It embraced such a variety of subjects 427 that it was impossible to believe men in their senses could propose to discuss them in five days. The second section embraced Clause 9, and the tremendous question whether the Irish Members were to be retained in the Imperial Parliament in all their numbers, and with all their powers—whether, in a word, they were not only to give a separate Legislature to Ireland, but give the Irish Members practically the control over the business of England and Scotland? It embraced the Customs, the Excise, the Consolidated Fund, the Irish Treasury, the Irish Church Fund, the Exchequer Judges and their powers, the transfer of the Post Office, Irish appeals to the Privy Council, and the whole of that vast question of the power and control of the English Privy Council over all the questions that would arise, and disputes with regard to Irish administration and the power of the Irish Legislature. It also dealt with the offices of Lord Lieutenant and Judges and Civil servants in Ireland, and it was actually proposed by the Government to closure such a variety of subjects after they had been discussed for 30 hours of the time of the House. That was the reductio ad absurdum, and he did not think he need trouble the House with reference to the other sections, except to say this: It appeared to him that the closuring of the last section, though it did not embrace so many subjects, was even a more gross breach of Parliamentary privileges and practice than any other, because the last section embraced the new Financial Clauses of the Bill, which had never been submitted to the judgment of the House, which modified the financial part of the Bill—already exceedingly favourable to Ireland, in a direction still more favourable to that country—clauses under which, if passed, the British taxpayer would, in future, pay 36s. per head towards the Imperial charges of this country, whilst the Irish taxpayer would only have to pay 6s. 8d., and which would practically reduce the contribution of Ireland to £1,560,000 a year. These were the proposals that the Government submitted to the House. What had they to say in their defence? The only practical defence was that in 1887 the Conservative Government moved the Closure on the Crimes Bill, or as it was known, the Criminal Law Procedure 428 Bill. But there was no comparison between the two procedures. There was hardly any analogy. The Crimes Act dealt only with one subject. They must remember that the present Prime Minister had been described by Mr. Parnell as the arch-Coercionist of this country. Every detail of that Act was familiar to the House and the country, and yet the late Government allowed its discussion to proceed for 35 days before they proposed the Closure. The present Bill involved a tremendous Constitutional change. By it the House was invited to undo the work of three generations, and to go in the face of all that had made nations, both of our own time and of antiquity, strong and prosperous. There was sufficient in the Bill to occupy the House for many Sessions. He denied that there had been any obstruction. Day after day questions of the most profound importance had been raised with reference to matters which, in the construction of the Bill, the Government had overlooked. He did not remember a single discussion in which Ministers had gained any advantage. The more the details of the Bill had been examined the more disastrous had been the effect on the supporters of the Government, both in the House and in the country; and it was the pressure of the Radical wirepullers that had led to the adoption of the present measure. They knew that the elections were won on the Newcastle Programme, and felt that some of the items of the Programme must be dealt with before the Session was over. That was why this great Constitutional measure was to be guillotined. As had been said by the last speaker, the Government wore, by their present proposal, affording the Upper House the best possible justification for throwing out the Bill. He would warn the Government that the result of their present procedure would be disastrous to themselves and to their measure. The people of Great Britain had already returned a majority against Home Rule in the abstract; and when they had an opportunity of expressing their opinion on Home Rule in the concrete, as exemplified in the Bill now before the House, they would return such a majority against it as would astonish hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
said, that he should be naturally 429 reluctant to say anything which could be construed as a threat; but he should be misrepresenting his constituents if he concealed from the House the fact that the people of Belfast did not acquiesce in the conclusion which the Government were now trying to force upon Parliament. There were many in Belfast who had felt that in any circumstances they were absolved from all allegiance to a law which made them the inferiors of the other citizens of the United Kingdom. If some had hesitated to adopt that view, he was sure from what he had heard within the last 24 hours that they hesitated no longer. He had just received a communication from the representatives of both the Unionist Parties in Belfast—the Conservatives, the Liberal Unionists, the working men, and, it might be of importance to add, from a Representative Body of the City—stating that they felt plainly and clearly that, in the words of one telegram, "the Government had relinquished all pretence of protecting liberty in Ireland," and that that abandonment "restored to the people of Ireland the right of self-protection." He was compelled reluctantly to endorse that sentiment. The Government could not plead urgency, for the measure in question was not to take effect until the September of next year, and yet this Bill of the first magnitude was to be forced through the House without any discussion whatever. A Return had been issued showing the procedure followed in other civilised countries before great Constitutional changes were undertaken. That Return showed that there was not another civilised country in the world where such a vast change as that proposed now by the Government had been effected without an amount of notice and preparation and a consensus of opinion absolutely lacking here. Up to the very eve of the introduction of the Bill, the "great secret," as it was called by the Government organs, had not been revealed. Therefore, the people in the North of Ireland were fairly justified in saying that the procedure which would not be permitted in any other civilised country was not such as would be binding on them. The responsibility for one in his (Mr. Arnold-Forster's) position was very great; but he could not run counter to the decision formed by his constituents. He wished to register his 430 belief, which was shared by every other Ulster Member, and by all the quiet, hard-working men and women of Belfast, that Belfast did not recognise the obligation sought to be imposed by the Government; and still less did they recognise it now that the Government, without any rhyme or reason, had determined to carry their revolutionary proposals by revolutionary methods. He did not want to warn the Government—that might be presumptuous—but he thought they ought to give attention to the fact that the people of Belfast, at least, could not recognise any moral obligation in connection with the present attitude of the Government.
§ MR. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
said, he should like to know exactly where they were? Were they (the Ulster and Unionist Party) accused of having obstructed the Bill? Were the Amendments brought forward obstructive Amendments, and was it considered that they had unduly occupied the time of the Committee? He wanted to have the opinion of those who were responsible for the Bill on this matter. The hon. Member for the City of Derry (Mr. Ross) said he thought that the Prime Minister, while making his speech, was feeling uncomfortable; but the feeling he himself (Mr. Rentoul) had with regard to the Prime Minister's speech was that it was an amusing speech, and that the right hon. Gentleman was possibly amused at the time at his own speech, which was to the effect that the Crimes Act of 1887 was as important as the present Bill, and that because the former had been brought to an end at a certain time the same policy was to be applied to the latter. There was, however, as much difference between those two measures as there was between the Bill that had been brought in for flogging garrotters on the Thames Embankment and the English Local Government Bill, the one affecting only a few criminals and the other affecting the whole of the people in this country. That was exactly the case here. The Home Rule Bill affected the whole of the people of Ireland, but mostly those who were law-abiding people and had anything to lose, for a great portion of it dealt not with life or liberty, but with property; and the vast majority of those who were in favour of the Bill being applied to Ireland, not having any pro- 431 perty there to lose, were not affected by it. The Local Government Bill had occupied the attention of that House for some considerable time; but the other Bill only occupied a day and a-half, and the Explosives Bill brought in by the Chancellor of the Exchequer had only occupied a day altogether. To draw a comparison, therefore, between the Crimes Act and the present Bill was truly remarkable. The Crimes Act touched only a very small portion of the community. He himself and almost all his relatives had lived in Ireland under various so-called Coercion Acts; but they had never known that such Acts were in existence, simply because firing at men from behind hedges and cutting off cows' tails did not run in his family. [Laughter.] The Opposition had been charged with obstruction; and he (Mr. Rentoul) asked himself whether he was an obstructionist? But the attitude taken up by the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Bolton), who was, perhaps, the man most opposed to obstruction, whether by his own or any other Party, was a proof that the charge was unfounded. The hon. Member had made a speech to the best of his ability, which was considered on the Opposition side of the House to be a very clear and able speech; but, even supposing that it was not pleasing to hon. Members who sat around, it must be admitted that the hon. Member was doing the best he could, and then, said the Prime Minister, "Take no notice." What had the hon. Member done? He had changed his mind on the Home Rule Question slightly—and he hoped the hon. Member would go on changing it still more. He had been slightly converted in this matter, but his conversion had not been half so sudden or complete as the conversion of the Prime Minister. [Cries of "Question!"] He thought that was the question, because it appeared to him that the whole House was being closured by a Motion, and that the hon. Member was to be closured by a sentence. The attitude of the hon. Member had induced him (Mr. Rentoul) to believe that they had not been guilty of obstruction, and that no such suspicion could possibly attach to them. He asked himself whether he had been guilty of obstruction, and tried to examine his own case. He had, perhaps, spoken more frequently than any other Ulster Member 432 on the Committee stage; but on no occasion had he spoken more than 10 minutes. He had moved three Amendments, one connected with the Marriage Laws of the community to which he belonged, a subject of the most vital and far-reaching importance, seeing that the Irish Parliament would have power to pass retrospective legislation which might render not only all marriages contracted in the future by a certain section of the community invalid, but all such marriages which had taken place during past generations. Although they might be able to ascertain what a pure Scotchman was under such a law, they would not always know what a pure Irishman was. On that occasion he had occupied seven minutes. Another Amendment which he moved was intended to protect the College for the education of the Presbyterian clergy of Ireland. He had spoken on that occasion less than 10 minutes, and the Amendment was rejected in the most contemptuous manner. He had been privileged to move a third Amendment to prevent the suspension of habeas corpus, and here the Closure was applied in about an hour. If, therefore, the Mover of such Amendments as these occupied not more than 30 minutes in explaining them, he should like to know what ground there was for charging the Ulster Members with obstruction? The subjects dealt with so far in Committee had been of the most vital importance, and deserved, surely, not only the time which had been devoted to them, but five times as much for their full and proper discussion. They had spent a good deal of time on Clause 4. They were earnestly anxious to help the Government on that clause. The Government brought forward a clause which was ridiculous as a piece of English composition. It was entirely bad grammar and pure nonsense. They had laboured in Committee to put the clause right, but even with all the help they had been able to give it was not sense yet. How would it have been if the Opposition had not interfered? Under these circumstances, it certainly seemed to him that they had not needlessly wasted time. The amount of time which would be available now for the discussion of the Financial Clauses would not be adequate. These clauses had again been changed, and the time which 433 was now allotted to the Committee was not even sufficient to discuss this branch of the subject alone. They had a right to complain of the action of the Government; particularly as they had made a careful study of the original financial proposals, and had prepared their remarks, and now all this labour would be thrown away. The fate of the Irish Civil servants had to be discussed; and Ulster Members were aware of the number of despairing letters received from the Irish Civil servants, from the Constabulary, from the Irish County Surveyors, and the post office and savings bank officials. The subject of the retention of the Irish Members had also to be considered. They were told in 1886 that to retain the Irish Members at Westminster would be a ridiculous thing, but now it was said that such a course would be right and proper. He tried to conceive the beautifully freehand the Irish Members would have in the House. They would not have to trouble themselves as to all the subjects about which their constituents were in the habit of troubling them and troubling themselves; but they would be able to interfere with and vote upon all English questions.
§ *MR. SPEAKER rose to Order, pointing out that the hon. Member was not entitled to discuss the clauses.
§ MR. RENTOUL
said, his desire was to show the great importance of the questions that remained to be discussed in Committee. These were all questions on which Ulster tried to speak with no uncertain voice. There was constant ridicule and laughter poured on every man who talked of Ulster fighting. Whether Ulster fought or not he did not care; but if it did it could only be put down by the soldiers of the Empire, and he did not envy the Prime Minister his reflections on that subject. Ulster men did not like the idea of being placed under the rule of Ministers who, to use a phrase well-known in connection with the examination of witnesses in the Law Courts, had been "several times in trouble." They did not, therefore, think they had unduly spent the time of the House in Committee. They believed that they had been moderate in their consumption of time, and that their observations had been remarkably short. They considered that the Motion brought 434 forward by the Prime Minister was one of the most coercive and drastic ever moved in the House of Commons, especially as the chief party in the firm to whose business it related had declared against it.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I have been waiting with expectation and with hope—doomed, alas! to disappointment—that some other Member of the Government, besides the Prime Minister, upon whom the whole burden of this Bill has been thrown, would rise to answer the arguments which have been addressed to that Bench. I thought, perhaps, that one of them might be willing to supply an omission in the speech of the Prime Minister, and that he might be ready to tell us, as a mere matter of historical curiosity, what is the reason why they who, in 1887, resisted a somewhat similar proposal, and declared that it cut at the root of our Parliamentary Institutions, are now found joyfully, although silently, accepting a similar proposition. Well, Sir, I have to turn to the speech of the Prime Minister, as no other Colleague will assist him in his difficulty, and I confess I think that he ought to be an object of universal sympathy. No one will doubt for a moment the sincerity of his statement, that it was with pain that he came forward—he of all men—to propose this great infringement of Parliamentary practice. He presents a spectacle with which, I am sure, the House will be inclined to sympathyse. It reminds me of the pathetic words by Addison. He is "the good man struggling with adversity." He is brought down to do the thing he loathes. He is setting a precedent which, by a slip of the tongue the other day, he declared to be a revolution in the Constitutional principles by which the proceedings of this House have been governed. Nobody believes that he is doing this willingly. We have information enough as to the state of his mind in the answers he has given to impatient followers even within the last few days. He has recognised, with the fairness which distinguishes him, the sincerity of his opponents in their opposition to this Bill, which, if passed, they believe would be fatal to the greatness of the Empire. He has admitted the importance of the measure which he proposes for good or for evil; he has admitted 435 that it deserves, that it is entitled to, that it must have the fullest discussion. No, Sir; it is not by his own goodwill that he comes down here to move a gagging Motion. There sit the men (pointing to the Irish Benches) that pull the strings of the Prime Minister of England. Under the threats of his Irish masters, under the pressure (pointing to the Gladstonian Benches) from his least experienced supporters, he comes down here to move a Resolution which is in contradiction of all the principles which he has declared in this House in the whole course of his Parliamentary life. We are not responsible. The Resolution is not due to any proceedings of ours. It is simply a concession to intolerance. It is one more surrender to revolt. I have no objection—no general objection on principle—to the application of the Closure. I am perfectly ready to admit that there are times and circumstances when even a drastic measure such as that which is now proposed by the Government is entitled to full consideration from this House. I have gone further. I may as well make a clean breast of it, for otherwise somebody may misrepresent what I have done, and say that when I had an opportunity in America of studying their system I took advantage of it, and subsequently I suggested a scheme for the consideration of this House whereby a Committee should be appointed, which, on the Motion of anyone in charge of a Bill, should have that Bill referred to it, and that that Committee should, therefore, have the right in its own discretion to say either whether any limit should be put to the discussion upon it, or whether a limit should be put to its separate stages. That was my proposal, but I need not say that I never contemplated placing this great power, without any restriction, in the hands of the Government of the day, whatever it might be, who should be entitled to use it for its own Party purposes and Party advantage. I had occasion to see in America how such a power can be abused. We are commencing a system which, if we do not take care in time, we may be perfectly certain to go as far in the wrong direction as our brothers in America have undoubtedly gone. When the House knows, as perhaps some Members do, that the M'Kinley Tariff Bill—a most 436 important Bill, of course, dealing with the duties on 600 or 700 articles—a Bill which is now almost universally admitted to have been opposed to the best interests of the American people—was carried by a gagging Resolution in the course of three or four days, we may be sure that it is to that we are tending. We are on a declining plane. This Government, for very shame, proposes to give us a month; the next Government will, perhaps, give you a week only. [Several hon. MEMBERS: The late Government gave a week.] Be sure of this, the tendency is constantly to diminish. I suppose some regard is to be bad to the comparative importance of the measures which are discussed; but my point is this—I beg most earnestly to impress it upon the House, upon my opponents as well as my friends—you are on a fatal incline; if you intend to preserve in any sense or shape or form the liberties of this House, you should consider carefully before you allow unrestricted power to any Party organisation to declare the time during which a great measure shall be debated. But I have said that I myself would be perfectly willing still to see some general scheme for dealing with this matter, and, in the meantime, I say, I lay down no general rule; I submit that every case must be considered on its merits, and this is a case to be considered on its merits. We have to consider whether the proposal of the Government in regard to this Home Rule Bill, which creates a new Constitution and destoys an old one, is necessary, is just, and is politic. Now, I am not going to consider precedents, for two reasons. In the first place, that has been already done by the Leader of the Opposition better than I can attempt it, and I do not wish merely to follow in his wake and to repeat his arguments. But, in the second place, he has shown that there are no precedents. The only precedent would be a Bill for altering the Constitution of the United Kingdom treated in a similar fashion, and there is no precedent for that. But we may lay down general conditions—and I will try to do so—which have to be observed, which at all events are entitled to serious consideration before any Resolution of this kind can be passed. In the first place, I point to the great importance of the subject-matter of this Bill. What is this 437 Bill? It is the crowning effort of the life of my right hon. Friend. Is that a small matter? That is the view which is own supporters and friends take of it, and we do not dispute it. It is of enormous importance; it has the most wide-reaching effect; every clause is a Bill in itself. I do not want to speak at any length. I will give one illustration of what I say. What is the Land Question in Ireland? It is a question which has occupied my right hon. Friend for many years of his career. Three times, at least, he has brought in Bills to deal with the Land Question in Ireland, and each of these Bills has been proposed by him as of vital importance to the security of the United Kingdom, to the peace of Ireland, and to goodwill between the different branches of the United Kingdom. These Bills have occupied a large portion of every Session in which they have been introduced. That is the history of the Land Question in Ireland so far as my right hon. Friend is concerned. The Party opposite have also dealt with the Irish Land Question. They also have given time to it. This historical Land Question has been stated by prominent Members of this Government—Oh, what have not prominent Members of this Government said!—it has been said by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, by Lord Spencer, and by my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, to be an obligation of honour, to be inseparable from the discussion of Home Rule. It has been declared by them, even after all these Bills which have occupied so much time, that it is still unsettled, and that it would be unfair to leave it entirely in the hands of the Irish Legislature. But here, in one clause of this Bill, after three years all of this great question that remains unsettled is to be left to hon. Gentlemen opposite—is to be left to the authors of the Plan of Campaign. Let the House reflect what this tremendous decision of the Government means—how it affects social order, and the relations between the two countries, and yet it is to be taken in a clause which is one of 40 clauses, a mere detail in a Bill which contains 50 other important questions, a mere incident with others in compartments—that is the word—in which it will fight for precedence with the compensation to be afforded to Civil servants, with the dis- 438 position of the Royal Constabulary, with the power of the Irish Parliament to repeal every Imperial Act affecting Ireland. Well, is not that one illustration enough? I could continue until midnight taking clause by clause of this Bill; but is it not enough to show that in this Bill one incident, one fraction, deals with the gigantic Land Question which lies at the root of the difficulties in Ireland which have puzzled, troubled, and hampered successive Governments? And we, forsooth, are obstructing the Bill because we refuse, as far as our protest goes, to allow a matter of this kind to be shelved in a few minutes' discussion! This Bill deals with questions greater than any this House has been called upon to deal with during the present century. It deals with Constitutional questions of the greatest magnitude, with financial questions of the greatest complexity, it deals with social questions, it deals with religious questions; it affects the deepest interests, I will say the strongest prejudices and the interests passions; it affects every man, woman, and child in the United Kingdom; there has never been a Bill like it; and yet it is to a Bill of this magnitude, involving these interests, that this dangerous weapon is to be rashly applied by the Prime Minister. I say, on this point of my argument—I would not like to exclude a possibility I cannot foresee; but as far as I can look into the future I would say a Bill of this kind ought, in no case, in no circumstances, in no stress, and in no extremity, to be subjected to any curtailment of free debate. Surely provisions such as those which I have described—I appeal to my hon. Friends who support the Government—must run the gauntlet of criticism if your Bill is to stand. Do you really believe in your fetish to this extent—that you think that one or two men on the Treasury Bench are gifted by the Almighty with power to deal with this question so as to produce a perfect Bill at the first inception? No, Sir; it is the free criticism of this House which tests a measure of this kind, which shows whether or not it is likely to work in practice. It is an advantage to any honest Government to have the views of their opponents, and to see how far they can meet them, and if they cannot meet them to amend their Bill in accordance with the new 439 lights which have been offered them. If there is anyone who has supposed that this exceptional power has been conferred on right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, I should have thought that the course of the Debate would have shown him his mistake. For these Heaven-inspired authors of Home Rule have, after six years of reflection, brought in a financial scheme which breaks down in six weeks? There is another important consideration which applies to this Bill. What is this Bill? It is a substitute for a Treaty of Union which was arranged between two high contracting Powers—[Cries of "Oh!"]—a Treaty of Union arranged between Ireland and Great Britain. [An hon. MEMBER: A fraud.] I am not to be led astray. It was arranged by the Representatives of the two countries, and it has lasted for more than 90 years. Now you propose a substitute for that Treaty, and you propose to gag the Representatives of one of those high contracting Powers. Did you ever hear in the history of the world of negotiations for a Treaty between the Plenipotentiaries of the great Powers in which the Plenipotentiaries of one side were absolutely silenced? I say that a proposal of this kind by the Government is absolutely monstrous. The time has gone by to mince our words. I accuse the Government of taking advantage of their brief tenure of office and of their casual majority to impose their will upon the minority as it exists in this House, and to betray the interests of their country. The interests of Great Britain, which they ought to represent, at any rate, as well as the interests of Ireland, are sacrificed to the pressure of the men who have been convicted of a conspiracy against the interests of Great Britain. I pass rapidly over two other points. The question of urgency, which I admit would be a serious argument for a Resolution of this kind, if it could be alleged, is disposed of by the fact that the authors of this Bill do not propose that it shall come into operation until September, 1894. We could finish the Bill by September, 1894. That is not much to ask. They have behind them an enthusiastic Party. They tell us they are enthusiastic; I am prepared to believe they are enthusiastic for everything but Home Rule. But it is not too much to ask from the self-sacrificers who 440 have been so loudly lauded by the Prime Minister that they should sit, if necessary, even to September, 1894. It is not too long a time to destroy an Empire. The second subject, which I think should be taken into consideration in this case, is the size, the number, of the minority who are opposing. If the minority, as I have known in my experience, is very small—if they can only keep up their opposition by frequent repetition, by purely obstructive tactics, if they have against them the overwhelming sense of the House, of course there is, in that case, some reason why the House should assert its authority. Is there any pretence that that is the case now? At best right hon. Gentlemen have only—I was going to say behind them, but I mean they sit between—a majority of 38, and that majority is only a limited majority. It is a majority which gives its support on conditions, and they know as well as we know that at any moment a very large portion of it may crumble away. If they appeal to the country, which we urge them to do, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying—and I take credit to myself for being something of an adept in political meteorology—they will be in a minority. That being the case, having only a majority of this description—a majority which is largely wasting away—they cannot treat us, who are nearly equal to their own numbers, as if we only formed a weak minority, and as if we formed only a small fraction of the House. But I come to a still more important consideration, and this I put also as a cardinal condition of any dealing with a great discussion in the way the Government propose to deal with this. It is that the issues in this discussion should be thoroughly understood by the people. Are the issues of this Bill thoroughly understood by the people? [Cries of "No!"] There is nobody who can honestly say that they are. If anyone would raise his voice I would meet him; I would pit against him the authority of the Home Secretary. When he was a private Member what did he say to his constituents? He told them that he had appealed to the Government as a friend to bring forward the main lines and features of their scheme in order that they might be fully discussed by the people, and in order that we might not say hereafter that a new appeal to the people was necessary. I 441 think that was sound and loyal advice, but it was not taken. Now, no one can say that anything more than the principle was accepted by the majority of the people of Great Britain. The principle! What principle? What is the principle of this Bill? The principle of Home Rule? Why, the Prime Minister himself, in a pamphlet published not so very long ago, said, and said truly, that Home Rule might be understood in a hundred senses, some of them acceptable and desirable, and others very much to be reprobated. A man, therefore, may accept the principle of Home Rule, but he may be utterly and absolutely ignorant of what the Government mean by the same words. The details of the Bill have been concealed from the people, and have been concealed by the Leaders of the remnant of a Party whose boast it was to trust the people. I was going to say—perhaps it was too strong an expression—they have been fraudulently concealed; I will say that they have been deliberately withheld, and by deliberately I mean with a definite purpose, and that a purpose which is connected with the tactics, and not with the principles, of this measure. Of course, the Government did not dare to submit their scheme. The advice given to every Gladstonian candidate was—Get a majority, honestly if you can. [Cries of "Name!"] Is it contended—[Cries of "Name!"]—I am glad I have struck the mark. How did these hon. Gentlemen who interrupt me get their majority? Was it by explaining what this Home Rule means?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
They could not explain, because they did not know. Here is my hon. Friend below me (Mr. Storey), noisy rather above the others, who says he did explain it. Why, to what wonderful prescience does he owe his knowledge? I have always admired my hon. Friend—his general integrity and simplicity of character—but I did not know he was a thought-reader. I congratulate him upon having found the pin. How was it possible for anybody who was not gifted with prophetic insight to state in the country anything about this Bill? Did they know in what way the Irish Members were to be retained at Westminster? Do they know now? Could they tell their constituents how 442 Ulster was to be dealt with? Could they say what were to be the powers which were to be conceded to the new Irish Legislature? Some of them thought that these powers would be very limited. I wonder how many of my hon. Friends behind me, who interrupted me just now, told their constituents that this Irish Parliament would have the power to upset the unsectarian system of education in Ireland. How many of them said that they would be able, at the expense of the Protestant minority, to create a Catholic University? Did my hon. Friend below me (Mr. Storey) foresee that not only were we going to give Home Rule to Ireland, but that we were going to pay, and to pay heavily, for allowing the Irish to manage their own affairs and to meddle in ours? If my hon. Friend told the men of Sunderland that, I am sure the men of Sunderland are better informed than the men of any other part of England. No, Sir; it is useless to interrupt. Hon. Members know in their hearts that discussion, real discussion, of this Bill was prevented in the country by the tactics of the Prime Minister. I say it is our duty as Representatives here to elucidate this scheme. As it was not discussed before the country, all the more should we discuss it now. If that is true of the Bill as it was introduced, how much more is it true now when a new Bill is to be inserted into the old Bill, and the whole scheme of finance is to be revolutionised at the expense of the long-suffering British taxpayer? Ah! it is very difficult to rouse the British taxpayer, but I think I see signs that he is beginning to move, and I am quite certain that when he does rise it will be extremely inconvenient to the friends of the Government. There is one other consideration which I think would justify a curtailment of debate, perhaps not as drastic as that we are considering, but still would call for the serious attention of the Government and of the House; and that would be the existence in regard to any Bill of obstruction—wilful, avowed, deliberate obstruction. Any attempt to kill a Bill by time ought, I think, to be resisted, by those who are responsible for the conduct of business in this House. [Ministerial cheers.] I am glad to find that we are in agreement as to that. Let us define obstruction. Obstruction 443 is not speaking, but, as I understand it, it is speaking, not because you have something to say, something which may be worth hearing, or which, at all events, you honestly desire to say, in the belief that it will aid in the consideration of the subject, but speaking in order to occupy time. Well, then, the question is, has obstruction of that kind prevailed in regard to this Bill? No, Sir; it has not. I have been present much more, probably, than most Members during these Debates. I would not say that there has been no irrelevant speaking, no repetition, no Amendments which might very well have been dispensed with. It is expecting too much of human nature to assume that, when 670 gentlemen set themselves down for the consideration of a great subject like this, they should not say one word more than is necessary for the purposes of true debate. But I will say this—that during the whole time I have sat here the only absolutely irrelevant speech to which I have listened was the speech of the hon. Member for North Kerry (Mr. Sexton) the other night. That was a speech absolutely beside the question before the House. It was not upon the Amendment—it was upon the relations of the Government to the opponents of the Bill. I am not complaining of it; I merely wish to emphasise the statement that, with that exception which I am obliged to make in order to be absolutely accurate, I have not heard one single speech which was irrelevant. I have never listened to a Debate in which the speeches were so serious and so directly to the point as the speeches made in this Debate. I take another case which will be in the recollection of the House. Committee debating means the debating over and over again by the same Members of points raised in the course of debate. There has hardly been in the whole course of these Debates a single second speech made by anyone. I say, under these circumstances, do let us do each other justice in this respect, and admit that there is no pretence for saying that there has been speaking in order to kill time. It was said by the Prime Minister to-day that the Amendments were not Amendments to amend the Bill, but to destroy the Bill. That is quite a new theory. The theory of the Prime Minister is that an Amend- 444 ment which is not friendly to the Bill is not worthy of consideration and ought to be blocked out by the Closure. In that case, what follows? No Amendments can be moved by anybody who is opposed to the principle of the Bill, and we have to rely entirely upon gentlemen here on the Government Benches to move all the Amendments to the Home Rule Bill. Well, I must say they have shown a very slight regard for their responsibility. Up to the present time, as far as I know, there has been only a single Amendment moved by an hon. Member of the Party supporting the Government. There would not have been one word of criticism or a single serious Amendment moved on this Bill if it had not been for the Opposition. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, but it is true. I really do not wonder that an hon. Gentleman opposite, who, no doubt, has not been much in the House, can hardly believe his ears. I have never known before any great Bill to which a very considerable number of Amendments have not been moved by the friends of the Government responsible for it. In this case the whole responsibility of discussion and criticism has been left to the Opposition, and we have endeavoured in a humble way to fulfil that responsibility. I ask my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, if he is going to speak again, to tell us in what sense our Amendments are Amendments to destroy the Bill? What is meant by that? There is not one of them which would not, in the opinion of the great majority of the people of Great Britain, improve the Bill. The only sense in which our Amendments would destroy the Bill—and I ask the attention of the supporters of the Government to this point—is that if they had been accepted by the Government they might have destroyed the Government majority. I assert that our Amendments have not been frivolous. They have been serious Amendments, and I can prove it to the satisfaction of the House. I have had put into my hands by a friend an exact account of what has been going on. Roughly speaking, within one or two, 90 Amendments have been decided by the House. Of these, 30, or nearly 30, have either been accepted by the Government, or have been reserved by them for future consideration. I have got the list in my pocket, but I do not suppose I 445 need go through it. That is enough to show—for I do not think so large a proportion is usual—that the Amendments which we have proposed have been at least as serious as the Bill itself. It is said by the Prime Minister that the Bill must be fully discussed, but that if it is discussed in the future as fully as it has been in the past it will take an unprecedented time to pass—that it may occupy the whole of the Session, or the whole of the Parliamentary year. I beg to submit to my right hon. Friend that this consumption of time is inherent in the subject which he has introduced to the House. I will remind him of a celebrated expression of his own. I will slightly vary it and will say—"You cannot treat a proposal for a new Constitution as if it were a turnpike trust." I ask the Government why did they take this burden upon their shoulders if their shoulders were not broad enough to bear it? If they choose to knock the British Constitution into pieces, if they choose to ally themselves with the men who are "marching to the dismemberment of the Empire," at least they ought to be patient while their projects are being criticised. Home Rule, what is it? It is the great dividing line between Parties in this country; it is the cardinal object of the Government, and the one they have put first in their programme; it is the reason of their existence; it is the cause of their being on that Bench. [Ministerial cheers.] Well, that is their own view. [Cries of "Oh!"] They cannot dispute it; they claim to be there as the Representatives of the Home Rule policy. I do not think my right hon. Friend will contradict me, although some hon. Members think it is a subject for ironical cheering. I should like to see my right hon. Friend get up and say that he owes his position to Parish Councils or the local veto. No; they sit there, according to their own statement, as the Representatives of Home Rule. Under those circumstances, they are bound not to grudge discussion of this main object of their existence, and they are bound to sit here if they sit till Christmas. My right hon. Friend said that he proposed this Resolution with great pain, and because the necessity for it was absolute. I hold that there was no absolute necessity, as was proved by the Leader of the Opposition. Why, 446 this Government, in spite of the alleged absolute necessity to carry Home Rule, dare not rest themselves upon Home Rule. They who sit there, according to their own statement, as the Representatives of Home Rule dare not give up their time to Home Rule. They disbelieve in their own Bill. They know that this precious measure is ungraciously accepted pro tanto by the Nationalist Members opposite; they know that it is loathed and detested by the Representatives of the Protestant minority; they know that it is unpopular with the majority of Englishmen and Scotchmen; they know that it is received with the barest toleration by their own supporters. Under these circumstances they naturally think they must sweeten the pill, and they try, as they were recommended to do by one of their supporters, to sandwich it between Parish Councils and something else. Oh, a few weeks is enough in which to dismember the Empire; and then they must get a little time in which they can ruin the publican, disestablish a couple of Churches, and doctor the electorate, in order that they may somehow or other get a second majority. Well, Sir, these are not the tactics of a Government which is confident in the rectitude of its principles and the righteousness of its cause. They are tactics worthy of Tammany Hall.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I pardon the hon. Member, because I am sure he knows a great deal more of Tammany Hall than he knows of Birmingham. Well, Sir, fortunately for us, the power of the Government does not equal its intentions; and I am perfectly certain that they will not be able, even with this latest weapon they have forged, to cram Home Rule down the throats of a reluctant British people. There is a peculiarity about the weapon itself which has marked no similar proposal. The Government propose not merely to fix the time we have to take, but to allot it for us. Really, I do not know whether I ought to be grateful to the Government for their kindness in taking this business out of our hands, or whether I ought to compliment them upon the acuteness with which they have distributed the miserable pittance 447 which they have allowed to us. One can see perfectly well what the object of the Government is in this arrangement of time. It is worthy of the artful Minister who drew up the Resolution. ["Oh, oh!"] I do not know who it is, but I admire his cleverness. The object is to avoid inconvenient debate. Where is debate on this Bill going to be most inconvenient? On the new Financial Clauses, on the proposal to take money out of British pockets in order to carry Home Rule. Upon those clauses you have not only the fears of Members who do not like to face their constituents with a proposition of that kind, but you have the threats of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. J. E. Redmond). It is no wonder that, under these circumstances, the financial proposals of the Government, which have been kept in the dark up to the present moment, are now reserved for a compartment in which there are half-a-dozen other subjects of the first importance. Well, I confess that if we are to be beheaded I prefer a different kind of guillotine. I would really myself prefer the drastic measure which was employed by the Government in 1881, and which might be very fitly described as carrying on the Debate by carrying out the debaters. On that occasion every Member who opposed the Government Bill in any active way was summarily suspended. I wish the Government would try to do the same with us. I would prefer a short shrift to the one they are good enough to afford to us, and I think it would be interesting to see the present Government attempting to suspend the whole of the Opposition. Well, Sir, I do not regret the course the Government have taken. I am very glad that they have played their last card, and I am not surprised that they have played it. I can readily understand that the daily exposure of their Bill, going on as it has done for nearly a mouth, was becoming a little too much even for the most case-hardened Gladstonian. We have watched with interest and amusement the growing intolerance of the Irish Members. We quite understand the effect it must have had on the Government. The Government have settled in secret conclave with some of the Irish Members the particulars of the surrender which they are prepared to make. As I came 448 down to the House I saw a board on a great warehouse, and I read thereon, "These premises are to be sold by private treaty." The British Empire is to be sold by private treaty. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know all the details of the underhand bargain which they have been able to make, and naturally they say, "Why debate? What is the necessity of any discussion? We are satisfied pro tanto. Under these circumstances, why should this useless and obstructive debate go on? The Irish Parliament only exists to register our decrees." When the Government, under the pressure of argument, has in the course of this Debate yielded upon minor points to the Opposition, the Irish Members have arisen like young lions in their wrath; they have denounced the Government, and been prepared to spring upon them; they have accused them at once of "unaccountable fatuity;" they have told them to their faces, and in face of, I think, an astonished British Parliament, that they, the Representatives of the minority of a minority, will not permit this powerful British Government to concede any further. That is one side of the situation; but there is another side. When this hectoring has been going on on the part of those to whom the Government have given up everything, and at whose feet they have laid the interests which they ought to have protected, it has been a little too much, I think, for some of the more moderate supporters of the Government. So the Government have had to choose; they have been between two fires. If they concede to us any Amendment, however reasonable, they are threatened with an Irish revolt; if they show too clearly that they are under the heels of hon. Gentlemen opposite there is some chance—a very little chance—of discontent behind them. Under these circumstances, with a crumbling majority, it was no wonder that they want to stop discussion. This is a Bill that will not stand the light. The Government are afraid to exhibit their ricketty bantling in all its naked deformity. The only chance they have, therefore, is to muzzle the House of Commons and to gag the Representatives of the British majority. Well, Sir, I am glad that they have fired their last shot. It will not contribute, I be- 449 lieve, to their success; it has only made their ultimate destruction more swift and more certain. And when they perish the best epitaph that can be placed over them is one that will be familiar, I dare say, to hon. Gentlemen opposite; it is, "The snakes committed suicide to save themselves from slaughter."
§ SIR E. CLARKE (Plymouth)
I waited a moment before rising, because I still had some faint hope that either from the Treasury Bench, or from some of the hitherto silent occupants of the Benches behind the Government, some answer might be made to the attack that has proceeded from this side and from hon. Gentlemen opposite upon the proposals of the Prime Minister. I call the attention of the House to the silence of the Government as the most striking instance of Parliamentary discourtesy and political cowardice that I have ever seen exhibited by a Government. It is a case of Parliamentary discourtesy, because since the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister made his speech nearly six hours ago there have been addressed to the House many arguments against the proposal—arguments, some of them dependent on the character of the suggestions the Government were offering to the House, and some of them based upon the character of the Bill to which this strange procedure is being applied. Whilst they have not indulged in speech themselves the Government do not appear to have released their supporters from the obligation of silence under which they have suffered so long. One would have thought that some Members on that side of the House, if one could be found to agree with the right hon. Gentleman in proposing this plan, might have been allowed the unaccustomed luxury of speech. It appears as if the discussions on this Bill and the discipline of the last few weeks had altogether taken away from the Gladstonian Party in this House the capability of speech. Not one of them has been found to support by any argument the proposal of Her Majesty's Government. Now, I think we have a right to claim from the Front Bench opposite some answer to the arguments that have been addressed to them, and after the speech that has just been delivered is it anything but political cowardice to remain silent? They have heard in that speech observations to 450 which they would be glad to reply if they could. Why is no answer given? I think we know the reason. Gentlemen opposite cannot challenge the statements of fact which that speech contained. There is not one of them on the Front Ministerial Bench, or on the Benches behind, who will take up the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman to point out where, in the whole Debate, there has been any obstruction to the Business of the House. That there is obstruction is part of the case of the Government, if they have any case, to justify to the House and the country the proposal to-night. They are bound to show some case for it in the conduct of the Opposition during the past few weeks. If the discussions in the House on the Bill so far have been serious discussions of matters of public interest, there is no excuse for the Resolution. When challenged to give an instance of any Amendment frivolous in its character, or any speech in its support of excessive length, Gentlemen opposite are all silent and fail to give a single example. But there is another point. It has been shown, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, that when he spoke of absolute necessity in the urgency of the case for this measure he contradicted himself, because the absolute urgency of which he spoke in another part of his speech as constituting an absolute necessity was not an urgency connected with this Bill, but with some other Bills which he hopes to pass at some other period of the year. Where is the answer to that comment? It was a reasonable comment, and surely one to which an answer should be given. I, for one, do not complain, from a Party point of view, of this silence of my antagonists. When it goes out to the country that not a single Member of the Party opposite has ventured to say a single word in support of the proposition, we shall make as much profit from their silence as we should from the unconscious condemnation of themselves which they would exhibit if they indulged in the perilous pleasure of taking part in the Debate. Nor am I, from a Party point of view, in the least disappointed at the Government bringing forward this proposal, or at the probability of their being able to carry it. There really is nothing that could be more satisfactory from some points of view. We know now 451 that our opponents will be condemned to silence for a month or six weeks, and that during that month or six weeks the whole time of the House is to be given to the consideration of the Bill which everybody knows will be torn into fragments directly this House has finished with it. I can conceive nothing better for the country than that they should spend their energies in this way for the next six weeks, for we know that during that time the Party opposite will be incapable of doing harm in other respects. What will be the result of the proposal of the present Bill? It will insure that the Bill will have no adequate discussion, and that if it should pass out of this House at all, it will pass out of it when many of its most important provisions have obtained no sanction from the discussions and judgment of the House. So far as this Bill is concerned, if the Government want to make it perfectly certain that it will never become a piece of legislation they are taking the best course. But we know that this Bill will never come on the Statute Book at all. But what about the effect of this proposal to-night upon the next Bill—because, I suppose, with some quaking hearts they are looking forward to, at some future time, proposing a new Home Rule Bill? Well, how will the course they are taking affect the next Bill? If this Bill were thoroughly discussed in the House of Commons, and if by the action of this House or of that of the co-ordinate branch of the Legislature the Bill were referred to the constituencies, the Government might say that it had been discussed in the House of Commons, and if the judgment of the country were in its favour they would have the mandate of the country to carry it again through Parliament. But they cannot say that now. If they come again after the destruction of this Bill and propose a Home Rule Bill fashioned on the lines of this—I do not believe they will ever risk the experiment again, but if they were to do so—they will have insured for themselves this result: that we shall be able to say, and say with perfect truth, "You are not now proposing a Bill on which Parliament has expressed its opinion; but you are proposing a Bill which you prevented Parliament from expressing its opinion upon by unnecessary closure at the end of the month of June." Let me mention another 452 consequence, and it is a serious one, and that is the effect of this proposal upon the relations of Ulster to this Bill if it should be carried. There might be something to say—although I do not believe there would be much to say—in support of the proposition that we should be entitled to the obedience of Ulster if the Bill passed this House in the ordinary way. But I think Ulster will have the right to take every measure which offers itself to refuse submission to the authority set up, having regard to the circumstances in which the Bill is now being passed. If there is anything that makes it absolutely certain that the moral authority of your Act of Parliament will be denied and refused by Ulster it is your passing it, in spite of its enormous Constitutional importance, without adequate discussion. Then let us look at the time at which this proposal of the Government has been made. In the case of the Bill of 1887, which was urgent in the sense of the immediate necessity for it passing, when the Closure was proposed all the principal clauses had been passed, and all the large questions to which it gave rise had been decided. [Cries of "No.!"] Yes; six clauses had been passed and all the great questions decided. The clauses of the Bill of 1887 which were passed by means of the Closure were not those involving principles, but merely procedure intended to carry the principles already decided upon into effect. But what is the case with regard to the present proposal? Have the principal proposals of this Bill been agreed to? Why, Sir, we actually do not know yet what those proposals are! On February 13 I ventured to say that I did not believe that the preposterous scheme contained in the 9th clause would ever receive the assent of Parliament. I do not believe it now; but that 9th clause is still in the Bill, and Her Majesty's Government have never told the House whether they intend to vote for that clause, or whether they propose to modify it, and, if so, in what way they intend to modify it. Here we are having this gagging Resolution proposed at the time when one of the main questions of the Bill—that is to say, the extent to which Ireland shall be represented in this Parliament—has not been declared. Possibly that has not yet been decided by Her Majesty's Government. The Financial Clauses, 453 again, are a matter on which the House has not been informed. On Thursday of last week the Prime Minister made a statement of which I will ask the House to allow me to read a few lines. He said—At the close of the six years Ireland's contribution and the financial particulars would be revised, and Ireland would fix, collect, and manage her taxes, except as regards the Customs, Excise, and Post Office. The Financial Clauses in the Bill are in all 12. It is proposed that three of them should be dropped altogether—namely, 11, 13, and 21. Two more are clauses in which we do not propose any change affecting finance—Clauses 18 and 19. Therefore, we should propose to take these clauses in their order as they stand. There remain seven clauses; four of these are clauses which will be supplanted by the new financial provisions—Clauses 10, 12, 17, and 20. We should propose to negative these clauses, in order to bring up new clauses, with the view of introducing our simpler plan. There still remain three clauses, and these we should propose to postpone until after the new clauses, mainly upon the ground of form, because they refer to the Irish Consolidated Fund, and that fund will not have been created until the new clauses are introduced. These are Clauses 14, 15, and 16. Five, therefore, out of 12 clauses would be dealt with in their order; four we propose to negative that we may bring up new ones, after we have gone through the clauses in the regular form, and three would be postponed until after the new clauses.Now, if anybody has a clear idea of what that means, he must have an unusual capacity for taking in intricate details. But what position are we in as regards the Closure? The Government appear to have assumed that the clauses will be dealt with in the order in which they stand in the Bill; but how are the Government going to deal with the postponed clauses? It is impossible to say in which of these different weeks the Financial Clauses will have to be dealt with. Now, in these observations I am only repeating—and repeating with ill effect perhaps—the observations that have been already made from this side. But are those observations worthy of no answer at all? It is, of course, in the discretion of the Government to say that they will make no answer at all; but they may be quite sure that if it goes out to the constituencies to-morrow that no answer has been made to the arguments that have been put forward by the Opposition with regard to the proposal to closure the discussion with regard to them, the constituencies will legitimately come to the conclusion that the Government have no answer to give. 454 The whole argument of the Prime Minister as to the necessity of this Resolution has been absolutely pulverised by those who have taken part in the Debate. The Government themselves are content to sit silent, and to say not one single word after the Amendment has been proposed, and there is not one of their followers who has a word of apology to say for them. It is to take note of this situation that I rose. I do not know whether any answer is to be given by the Government; but, at all events, the Government know now with perfect distinctness what conclusion will be drawn from the silence in which they persist.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
I do not rise for the purpose of continuing this Debate, but I desire to call attention to the conduct of Her Majesty's Government, which, I venture to say, in my experience of the House of Commons, extending over now some five and twenty years, is absolutely without any precedent whatever. We wish to mark our sense of the conduct of Her Majesty's Government on this occasion by an action which I believe will receive widespread assent in this House, and that is by moving the Adjournment of the Debate. Let me recall for a moment what has occurred. We are engaged in a Debate which is admitted on all sides to be a Debate of transcendent importance. It was commenced with a speech from the Prime Minister, which, from his own point of view, left nothing to be desired. He was followed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition with another speech, which even his opponents will admit to be masterly, and which was conclusive against the proposals of the Government. From that time to this not one single Member of the Government—not one single Member of the opposite side of the House supporting the Government—has even ventured to utter one single syllable in reply to the arguments which have been adduced. This is a conspiracy of silence which I think is unrivalled even in the annals of the present Government, and in the traditions of the Liberal Party in this House. What is the meaning of it? I can only presume that it is intended to close our mouths upon certain most important provisions of this measure which present unusual difficulties to the Government, and in regard to which we 455 do not even know at present what the real intentions of the Government may be. They have not dared, as I have said, to offer one single word in reply to any one of the arguments which have been advanced in the numberless able speeches which have been delivered in this House upon this occasion against a proposal which we all in our hearts and our consciences believe to be most injurious to the liberty of Parliament, and which, in our judgment, will impair also the liberty of the people. It is, Sir, because I regard this conduct on the part of Her Majesty's Government as discourteous to Parliament itself; as opposed to all the best traditions of the House of Commons, as thoroughly un-English and as cowardly in the extreme, that I believe I fulfil nothing but a public duty both to this House and also to the country in moving, as I now move, that this Debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Chaplin.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT, Derby)
It is always interesting to see the right hon. Gentleman in a state of virtuous indignation, but I do not understand what it is which inspires it. On this occasion the Government have made a proposal to the House. The Prime Minister stated the grounds on which that proposal was founded. In our opinion, that statement is sufficient. We do not think that we can improve upon it. For my part, I had not thought of speaking in this Debate. I delivered my speech in favour of this Motion six years ago, on the 10th of June, 1887. I then stated what would be the exact consequences of the course taken by the Government of that day, and I do not desire to violate the Standing Order against reiteration in delivering again the speech I made on that occasion. I have said that the Prime Minister has stated the views of the Government and of the supporters of the Government in relation to the Motion. The Leader of the Opposition made a very able speech, which stated the objections of the Opposition to the Motion. I have not observed in the great number of speeches which have followed on the same side that anything has been added to what the right hon. Gentleman said. We are quite content 456 with the statement of the case on our side. I hope you are content with the statement of the case by your Leader on your side. In our opinion, the House is perfectly able to form a judgment upon the matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who wrapped up, it is true, a great deal of vituperation of the Government, which does them no harm, really stated the issues most clearly and candidly. He said that what you really want is to discuss this measure till September, 1894. ["No, no!"]
§ SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
In the absence of my right hon. Friend, I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer will allow me to correct him. What my right hon. Friend did say was that if the Members of the Government wish to continue to that time they could do it. He never said he wished to do it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
My recollection does not agree with that of my right hon. Friend. But, whatever date you choose to give, in our opinion the object of these discussions has been, and is, what was denned by the Member for West Birmingham, to kill this Bill by time. Now, that is the thing which we think it our right and our duty to prevent. That is our belief, and I think the country knows and believes that is the object. We believe that a measure of this character is for the public advantage. You do not. We believe it to be our duty to say that it should not be destroyed by accumulating Amendments upon Amendments. I remember in 1887 the late Chancellor of the Exchequer said it was not only by frivolous Amendments, but by the excessive multiplication of Amendments, that you can prevent the passing of a measure. That is exactly our view of the tactics that have been pursued. We have assigned that we believe, and what we think the country will believe—[Opposition cries of "No!"]—what in our opinion, at any rate, we believe to be a reasonable time for the reasonable discussion of this measure. We are ready to take the opinion of the House of Commons upon that issue now, and to take the opinion of the country hereafter.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I am not surprised, after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 457 that he did not rise until he was absolutely forced to do so, in order to reply to the speeches which have been made. I will say nothing of the statesmanlike tone in which the right hon. Gentleman has treated a measure by which the privileges and the liberties of the House of Commons are being curtailed and given away. He did not even follow the example of the Prime Minister, who, at all events, showed his appreciation of the seriousness of this Debate. The right hon. Gentleman thinks it enough to say, "We will leave the matter where the Prime Minister left it." That means to say that the Government, supported by their impatient friends behind them, think that it is not their duty to indicate in what way we have been mistaken when we have pointed out to the House the time that must necessarily be bestowed upon many of the Amendments. They do not think it is worth while to answer the question whether the admission or exclusion of the Irish Members can be debated within a week. They have no answer. No; they cannot give an answer, because there are three different proposals with regard to the Irish Members, each of which might be discussed for a week, and possibly for two. The right hon. Gentleman says, in his magnificent way, "We intend to carry this measure." What measure? "We are going to take the opinion of the country upon this measure." On the 9th clause as it stands? On the Financial Clauses as they are going to be proposed? Frivolous Amendments have, it is said, been moved. In that case the Government are the worst offenders themselves, for they have moved Amendments which must necessarily require the time of the House. We are reproached for having spent too much time in discussing these questions when we have in the course of the general Debates destroyed a plan of finance which the Government themselves now admit to be inadequate. If we had given, as the Government wished us to do, the shortest possible discussion to this measure, these Financial Clauses might never have been withdrawn, and might still be offered to the country. As regards the retention of the Irish Members, the Government, if they have made up their minds, ought to take the House into their confidence as to what their policy is. To closure the voice of the majority of Great 458 Britain on a Bill the principles of which have not yet been revealed to us—
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I am obliged to you, Sir, for reminding me I was out of Order. But I was tempted to reply to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I trust I may say that we are entitled to move the Adjournment of the House in order to see whether the Government may not yet think fit to give a further answer to the arguments which remain absolutely unanswered. We think it contrary to Parliamentary precedent, contrary to courtesy, and to the best traditions of British public life that speech after speech should have been made and the Government should not have thought it worth while to reply.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 279; Noes 308.—(Division List, No. 176.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
We have made our protest. We think that the Government should have made some attempt, at all events, to answer the speeches which have been made in all good faith. I do not think, however, that anything is to be gained by pressing that matter further to-night. It is before the country; it is for them to judge. They are not likely to be influenced in that judgment by any further speeches which might be made. I would, therefore, suggest that the House should take a Division upon the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, which really is a broad negative to the general proposition; and if the Government should succeed in rejecting that Amendment, as I suppose after the Division we have just had they may be able to do, that they should consent to adjourn the discussion of the other Amendments on the Paper.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I confess myself to have been disappointed by the close of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It did not at all fulfil the anticipations I formed from its commencement. The right hon. Gentleman proposes not to persevere with something that he has hardly explained.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
What is the meaning, then, of the right hon. Gentleman asking to have the subject adjourned?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Perhaps I should explain how the matter stands. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect, in the first place, that he gave us no time to put Amendments on the Paper; but there are a certain number of Amendments very pertinent to the general Resolution, Amendments which accept, as we may be forced to accept, the principle, but which extend the time which would be given for the discussion of the Bill. [Cries of "Oh!"] They may be Amendments repulsive to the feelings of gentlemen below the Gangway, but they are legitimate Amendments. All I suggest is that these Amendments, not, so far as I am aware, very many in number, should be deferred to a time when the House would be able to discuss them.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
It is quite true that the Amendments are not on the Paper, and could not have been on the Paper. No complaint can, of course, be made on that subject from our side of the House. It is a necessity of the case, and it proves the fidelity with which, in respect of time, we copied the example of 1887, not because we wished to shelter ourselves under this authority, but because we thought it was right under the circumstances, and that we, under circumstances still more urgent, are doing well to follow that example. Our object, as has been stated by my right hon. Friend, is to avoid the great danger of the extinction of this Bill, not upon the merits, not by argument, but by that familiar monosyllable "time." On that account I see no reason why, after deciding the Main Question to-night, we should not dispose at once of the Amendments.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 306; Noes 279.—(Division List, No. 177.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, he desired to speak on the Main Question, as it was important something should be said about it before any further Amendments were 460 moved, especially as they had tried in vain to get some answer or argument from the Government. The arguments of the Opposition had been met by evasion or by absolute silence. One object of the discussions on the Home Rule Bill was to bring the Government to realise the meaning of some important parts of their own measure. Another important function of the discussions was to cause a knowledge of the character of the Bill to filter down to the constituencies. Desperate gamblers would double the stakes as luck went against them, and the Government were getting more and more reckless as they became aware that they were being found out by the constituencies. He thought that the Chief Secretary's reminder to the Member for East St. Pancras, when he was speaking, that he had voted for the Second Reading of the Bill, was most inopportune. The hon. Member did not then know, as they knew now, of the secret compact which the Government had made with hon. Members from Ireland. The hon. Member did not know the fact that the Government themselves had no power to make Amendments in Committee unless those Amendments were first submitted to hon. Members opposite, nor did he know then that the safeguards provided in the Bill had been proved to be actually worthless. He thought it was to be regretted that the hon. Member for St. Pancras should have been met by the Prime Minister with the words "Take no notice," especially when the hon. Member was only uttering opinions which the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had recently abjured. The action regarding the hon. Member, the indications they had seen in the discussion, and the Motion of the Prime Minister, were all evidences of impatience and of tyranny—if he might so term it—bearing the name of freedom and wearing the cap of liberty. The advice to take no notice might do very well in the House of Commons, but the constituencies would take notice, and care would be taken that they had every opportunity to cause them to take notice. The Prime Minister said it was a pain to him to abridge the freedom of the House. They all believed that; but they had heard the crack of the whip from the opposite Benches, and they knew that it was not through any Parliamentary necessity, but necessity of Party, that this 461 Motion had been moved. The fact was, the right hon. Gentleman was now in the position which he prophetically described in his speech in Midlothian when he said it would be dangerous to the Government to have a majority of Irish Members who could say to them, "Unless you do this and unless you do that, we will turn you out of Office." That was precisely the position in which the right hon. Gentleman found himself. He held Office by a servile tenure. When, in 1846, Sir Robert Peel met Parliament with an uncertain majority such as the right hon. Gentleman had now, and he was urged to retain Office, he used words to this effect—I do not wish to be Prime Minister of England; but if I am Prime Minister of England, I will hold Office by no servile tenure. I will hold Office subject to no obligation but that of consulting the best interests of the country and providing for its safety.That was an utterance worthy of a Prime Minister of this great country. But the present Government were holding Office by a servile tenure, the character of which was making itself felt at every step in the discussion of this great question. He thought the Prime Minister and the Government should be somewhat glad that this Constitution, which it had taken centuries to build up, should take some trouble and give some difficulty in its being destroyed. It had been the growth of centuries, and could not be broken at the will of the majority of 35 Irish Members who sought to thrust this Bill down the throats of the British people. In his opening speech that night the Prime Minister had stated that 19 nights had been occupied in discussing two clauses of the Bill; but he appeared to have forgotten that each of those clauses was equal to 19 ordinary Parliamentary Bills of complex character. Those clauses treated of trade, commerce, education, religion, and everything that went to make up a nation. It was, therefore, most misleading to describe them as mere clauses of a Bill. The Prime Minister also spoke of the Crimes Bill, and said that that Bill for the curtailment of liberty only took 15 days for discussion, therefore the time apportioned to the present Bill should be shortened. But the Crimes Bill was for curtailing the liberties of the worthless and of the criminal; whilst this Home Rule Bill was for the curtailing of the liberties, rights, and privileges of the loyal minority in 462 Ireland. It was also said—and this was the favourite argument—that this Parliament must proceed with this Bill in the manner suggested, because the majority must prevail. But there was no majority obtained on this Bill that was now before the House. The Bill had never been before the constituencies, and it would be their object to get it placed before the constituencies. Their mandate as the Representatives of Great Britain was to oppose that Bill, and they were backed in that opposition by the great majority of the people of this country, and the Government must not mistake the attitude of the Opposition. Precisely as they should oppose an attack against this country if made from without by a Foreign Power, so exactly in the same spirit should they resist the Government in their attack on the Empire of which they ought to be the defenders. There-sult was the same, or, if anything, the position was worse for the Government, because they had joined the Representatives of the enemy of their country to destroy its unity and its liberty. [A laugh.] Hon. Members opposite might laugh, but that was the position of the Government. They had bought their majority by a surrender of all that was most valuable in this country, and all that they themselves declared was most valuable up to a recent time. They had often heard about the defence of Derry. The defenders of Derry were forsaken by their leader, who made terms with the enemy, and thought he could hand that city over to the foe. But the brave men of Derry disowned their false Governor; they shut the gates, and the brilliant defence of that city was recorded in history. There were evidences about that the people of this country were becoming alive to their position as the defenders of Derry were, and this question of the unity of the Empire of all the issues involved in that Home Rule Bill would be dealt with by the constituencies. It was their verdict which they wanted to obtain as soon as they could, but which the Government dreaded and which they were about to take care they would not submit themselves to. Time was with the Opposition and the Government knew it; time was against the Government, and they knew their only chance now, as it was in 1886, was to rush their measure. They had heard a good deal about the American Constitu- 463 tion, which was alternately cursed and blessed. But he believed that this American Constitution, even in its preliminary stage, was deliberated upon for five months, and after the principles of it were decided upon it took a long time to settle and put into form. And yet they were to recast this whole British Constitution against the will of the British people and carry five or six first-class measures as well, all in one Session. They were told that not only were the Government supported by the Irish Members opposite, but by the Irish all over the civilised world. He had heard it stated with regard to America that they blessed the Irish Question in the House of Commons and cursed it in the Senate. He was afraid many Members supporting the Government were in a similar position. They blessed Home Rule on the platforms and cursed it in their secret hearts. If the vote on this matter could be taken by ballot, "No man knowing that which his fellow doeth," it would be with a far different result to what would take place in the ordinary course. He asked, what did they know about the Financial Clauses? Suppose the Financial Clauses had been closured without discussion, how would it have been possible to find out the gigantic blunder in calculation which was now disclosed? How did they know there was not some other great error in the present Financial Clauses, and how could they tell what the errors were until they discussed these clauses? This was the third trial on the part of the Government that professed to have Home Rule at its finger ends, and yet at the first bit of criticism on the part of the Unionists, the rottenness of the financial scheme—the very basis of any scheme of Government—was apparent and had to be admitted. How did they know there were not equally serious objections to the other parts of the Bill until they came to discuss them? He maintained that every hour of discussion had shown to the country what the Bill meant. Very few in that House knew what it meant, not even the contracting parties. He had no doubt the Irish Members knew what it meant, and he congratulated them after so many years of struggle on having brought the Prime Minister of England and the Government to their knees. The right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench were no more the Government of this 464 Imperial country than were the Government of France at this moment. They were simply bound hand and foot by the the Irish majority which, as had been said by the hon. Member for the Durham Division and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, were a foreign element in that House. Therefore, when they talked about free Government they should remember that the present Government had the freedom of a bird in a cage, to hop from perch to perch, just as hon. Members opposite chose to permit them. If they sought to escape from that servile tenure then the hon. Member for Kerry had only to crack his whip, and the rebellion was not of long duration. The Government might Closure this Debate, they might gag the House of Commons, they might be silent under argument, they might postpone difficulties; but none of these low successes would avail them before the constituencies. Then they would have to go, not on Home Rule in the abstract, as was the case at the last General Election, where they could preach about gas and water, Local Government, or anything they chose, and no document. Now they would have to face the constituencies with this Bill, and the Opposition would be able to compare the promises made by the Gladstonian Members when they were elected with their performances, and how the pledges they had given were realised in the Bill. They would be able to explain to the electors the meaning of the clauses, the Amendments that were brought forward to make sham safeguards real, and who voted against them. He thought the Government had already found out that the breaking up of this old country was a greater task than they had anticipated, and, if they had any regard to their honour and credit, they would retire from an undertaking on which they could not advance with any honour or safety to the country, or credit to their own reputation.
§ MR. HARRY S. FOSTER (Suffolk, Lowestoft)
desired to recall attention to the unprecedented position in which the Government had left the House. A proposal had been submitted by the Prime Minister which he himself had not denied was of an exceedingly important character. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman did not hesitate to state that the Motion he was making caused him the greatest possible pain. The proposal before them, 465 then, was a painful and serious proposal. It was supported in a speech of something like 25 minutes in length, and from that moment down to the present not one further word had been offered either by any Member of the Government or of the Gladstonian Party, or of the loquacious Irish Party, in support of the proposal. Some powerful speeches—Worthy to rank with the best Parliamentary orations—had been delivered, and convincing arguments advanced against the proposal, and at least it would have been respectful to the House and among the ordinary courtesies of debate that some of these speeches, at any rate, should have received some answer on the part of the Government. If the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was to be maintained, then in future, however great the question might be which was to be submitted to that House, it would only he necessary for the Prime Minister or some Leader of the Party to move his Resolution or Bill, and then, having made his speech, it would lay in the mouth of every other Member of the Government and Party to say that their views had been stated by their Leader, that they were satisfied with those views, and they had nothing further to say. An argument of that kind would be considered unworthy of a fourth-rate Debating Society, and certainly it was an unworthy argument to address to this Assembly, supposed to be the first in the world. The Prime Minister based the only argument he ventured to address to the House upon the precedent of 1887 in reference to the Crimes Act. When Mr. Smith introduced that Motion to the House he said—We had hoped that the counsel offered by right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench would have been accepted by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway.In other words, he based his Motion—which he admitted was a departure from ordinary Parliamentary procedure—not merely upon the support of his own Party in that House, but upon the avowed support of right hon. Members on the Front Opposition Bench, who, during the course of the Committee proceedings, had frequently intervened for the purpose of endeavouring to shorten the Debate and get the Committee to arrive at a decision. When he found that they rejected his advice he felt it necessary to present his Resolution. What happened upon that 466 Debate? A number of speeches were delivered by Gladstonian Members who were silent to-night. The Member for the Cockermouth Division made a speech in which he said that he regarded the Amendment as a Vote of Want of Confidence in the Chairman of Ways and Means. He said, in fact, that either the Chairman was fair or unfair. The Chairman had the power to stop frivolous discussion. It would be interesting to see what the views of the hon. Member would be upon proposals of a much more drastic character, as submitted to-night. Then there was another speech made by an hon. Member who was in the habit of making speeches at that time, but who bad given up the practice recently—the hon. Member for North Louth—who was always interesting when he was not insulting somebody. He said that the Motion was nothing more or less than a Vote of Censure 011 the Chairman. He (Mr. Foster) called attention to a fact, too, which had not been mentioned in the Debate of to-night. That was, that there was not a single occasion upon which a Closure Motion had been moved by a Minister and not accepted by the Chairman. [A cry of "No!"] There might have been one occasion, perhaps; certainly not more. That was not the case when the Crimes Bill was under discussion. The Chairman frequently refused the Closure on the ground that further discussion ought to be allowed; but the Government had no ground for saying that the Chairman had in this matter refused to abridge the discussion.
§ MR. HARRY FOSTER
Not the Government. The Government has said nothing. The Government cannot say anything wrong, because they have adopted the policy of saying nothing at all. They have entered into a conspiracy of silence, and their followers have endorsed their policy. Another speech was made by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) who said the Regulation would take from the Chairman the power of protecting substantial Amendments from the operation of the Closure:—Before long another Party would be sitting on the Ministerial Benches, and the Home Rule Bill would again be introduced. It would then be most convenient for that Party to have a Conservative precedent, to gag inconvenient opposition.467 He had no doubt that the Government had found the strong opposition to which their Bill had been subjected extremely inconvenient, and had sought to adopt this gag in order to get rid of "inconvenient opposition." If these Resolutions of the Government were adopted, in what position would they be placed? Their attention was directed to the different compartments of the Bill—first, from the 5th to the 8th clause; next, from the 9th to the 26th; next, from the 27th to the 40th. He wished to call the attention of the House to the third compartment. This contained a large number of important matters; it was the attention of the House that he wished to call to this subject, not the attention of the Government, because it was useless to call their attention to anything. He would, however, call the attention of the remainder of the House to this point—that in the third compartment there were a number of important points to be considered, including the questions of the Judges, the Civil servants, the police, and other matters. But it was not until Clause 35 was reached that one came to what the Government had singularly called transitory provisions. This clause raised the question of land legislation, and he put it to the House whether it was reasonable that so vital a point of the Bill should be allowed to go through without any discussion whatever? He recalled the recollection of the House to the statement made by the Prime Minister when he previously endeavoured to legislate on this subject. He said then that it was an obligation of honour, of duty, and expediency that this question of dealing with the land should not be handed over to the Irish Parliament; that it would be an incumbrance to them, and that the evil had become so chronic in Ireland that it would be a false kindness to hand over to the Irish Parliament any powers dealing with the land. The Government saw the same difficulty on this Clause 35 when it was reached, and their present course was taken with a view of evading discussion in Committee. The Prime Minister did not condescend to any argument in introducing this Motion. He pointed out the time this Bill had occupied up to now. He (Mr. Foster) put it to the House that in the present century there was no precedent for a Bill of this sort. The President of the Local Govern- 468 ment Board went to a banquet in the City on the 16th June, and he had to make a speech—it was at the City Liberal Club—and in the course of it he alluded to the present Parliamentary position. He apologised for not having made progress with the Local Government Bill, and he said he asked himself what was the reason for this peculiar position of public affairs. The Government were introducing measures of great importance, and the measure which was blocking the way of all English and Scotch legislation was a great and difficult one, and one which could not be passed in a week, or in a month, as any measure of ordinary legislation might be passed. He was quoting the words of the President of the Local Government Board in order to make his point clear that this was not a measure of ordinary legislation. This Bill, in its inception, in its provisions, in its results, was the most important legislative proposal that had been made in the present century. [Cries of "Oh!"] Hon. Members opposite had got out of the practice of speaking, and they could only resort to interruption. That was practically the statement of the President of the Local Government Board, who went on to say that such a measure ought to receive most ample and careful consideration on the part of every Member of Parliament. Judging by the state of the Government Benches during the Committee stage, he should think that the suggestion that this measure had received the full and anxious consideration of Members had not been carried out. This was the case of the Radical tail wagging the Government head. Probably against their own judgment the Government had introduced these Resolutions, so that they might please their supporters by rushing the Bill through the House of Commons. He asked why the Government desired to put the Closure on the remaining clauses of the Bill? They knew that the measure would not be passed into law; that it was a revolutionary Bill; that each clause raised so many issues that the House was justified in giving as much attention and time to each of them as to an ordinary Act of Parliament. He thought that the longer this Bill went on the more the Government would suffer.
§ MR. HARRY FOSTER
said, the interruption of the hon. Gentleman opposite must be his excuse. He was asking the House why the Government should be so anxious to rush this Bill through. He thought the answer was very well understood. Had the Government any confidence that this Bill commended itself to the judgment of the country? Their tactics were to try to confuse the issue. They did not dare to go with this Bill, when it had been brought in and discussed in the House, to the electors of the country. What they wanted to do was to try to rush this Bill through the House as swiftly as possible by the aid of their subservient and servile majority. [Cries of "No!"] If it was not a subservient and servile majority let them show it. They wanted to send up the Bill to another place. [Cries of "Divide!"] He intended to finish his speech notwithstanding the interruption of hon. Gentlemen. Ministerialists desired to send up the Bill to another place. They knew it would be rejected; more than that, they wanted to raise a cry, not in favour of their Bill, but against one of the Institutions of this country, and they hoped by this means to scramble this Bill through, and to keep together the narrow majority which they had in the House. He was satisfied to submit to the House his protest, and he was satisfied that the result of this Debate would be still further to injuriously affect the Government, not only in the House but in the country, and they on the Opposition side of the House would have no reason to regret that issue.
§ BARON FERDINAND DE ROTHSCHILD (Aylesbury)
I rise to move the Adjournment of the Debate. My reasons are that, in the first place, it is 10 minutes to 2 o'clock; and next, that not only my own friends, but the Members of the Government, obviously desire to follow the example of the Prime Minister and go to bed. [Cries of "Shame!"]
§ BARON F. DE ROTHSCHILD
I meant no disrespect to the Prime Minister. I have only said that the hour is late and that hon. Members are desirous of going to bed. The second reason for adjournment which I would urge upon the Government is, that several hon. Gentlemen opposite have various Amendments which they wish to bring forward, and which will take up a considerable time of the House. I beg to ask the Government whether it is possible to discuss important Amendments at 10 minutes to 2 at night, and whether they will not gain more by adjourning this Debate instead of forcing this matter upon the House now? I want to point out to the House that the Divisions which have taken place do not reflect any dishonour upon the Opposition. We have heard that the normal majority of the Government is 40. That has come down to a majority of less than 30. If we stop here much longer we can wear out the patience of the Government, and still further reduce their majority. I beg, therefore, to move the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild)
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
One of the principal objects we have in view on this Bench and on this side of the House—and I should have thought such an object would have been in the view of hon. Members in other parts of the House—is to spare the Prime Minister. But it is not because we are desirous of sparing the Prime Minister that, therefore, we shall fail to continue to do that which we consider to be our duty. With reference to the time of night at which we have arrived, I should like to call the attention of the House to what has taken place recently. The Leader of the Opposition, with great moderation and good temper, has recommended that after discussion had taken place upon the Amendment a Division should be taken. Everybody understood that upon that Amendment the discussion on the general question had been taken and was closed. What was the meaning of that Amendment? It raised a discussion upon the general question whether or not there should be a Resolution of this character. That was expressly stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader 471 of the Opposition, and he proceeded to recommend an Adjournment, not for the purpose of continuing the Debate upon the general question, but in order that he might enter a protest upon the Amendment. What happens now? The Opposition think over the recommendation of their Leader. The right hon. Member for the Bordesley Division revived the discussion on the general question, and the hon. Member who spoke last simply repeated over and over again things which had been said a dozen times. Hon. Members opposite are well represented by the Members for Lowestoft and Bordesley, who have been wasting the time of the House to-night. It is on account of their proceedings that we intend to proceed with this Resolution as far and as long as we can. Each and every day that is wasted on this Resolution will be so much time taken from the time for discussion on the Amendments. We shall, therefore, oppose the Motion, just as we opposed it some two hours ago.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I must congratulate the House on the reentry into the Debate of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We shall all be inclined to say to him, "Welcome, little stranger." I cannot, however, congratulate him on the attempt he has made, not for the first time, to make capital out of the Prime Minister. My hon. Friend (Baron F. de Rothschild) made an accidental and perfectly good-humoured allusion to the Prime Minister. He said what we all feel, that he wished he could follow his example to go home to bed. It is perfectly absurd, and it is about time that a protest was made against attempting to erect the name and the age of the Prime Minister into a fetish. [Cries of "Shame!"]
§ MR. CONNOR (Antrim, N.)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to complain of the language of an hon. Gentleman by my side. I object to the word "Judas."
§ Several hon. MEMBERS: Name!
§ MR. SPEAKER
Whoever used that expression made use of an improper and, I must be allowed to say, an ungentle-manly expression.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I appeal to the common sense of the House; if the House now adjourns it will make no difference to the time of the Government. The Government has proposed a Resolution by which they propose to conclude Committee on the Home Rule Bill at a certain date. If the Opposition choose to occupy some part of the time it will make no difference to the Government. Therefore the Government, in protesting and in keeping up the House and taking constant Divisions is not doing it for any practical purpose. It will make no difference to them. The only reason they have for all this absurd performance and exhibition of determination to stand by the ship to the last is to make of it a piece of dramatic representation for the benefit of the Irish Members. I do not wish to offer any further protest. I only say that to people of common sense it seems that we might, at least, be allowed to dispose of the time that is left to us as we please ourselves.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I can assure the House I do not rise to add any venom to this Debate. I am rather puzzled as to the position which the right hon. Gentleman has taken up. If he really means that we are to fight all along the line he can have his way. The Government can always obtain these little relaxations if they desire them. I am almost sorry that I have used that sentence; but surely the Government are not acting a very wise part. The Government must be aware that the Debate to-night has been an important one on an interesting question. We have been righting all the night to the best of our ability a proposition which, in our judgment, strikes a very serious blow, perhaps for all time, at the liberties of Parliament. That Debate is over; but, that Debate being over, there remains the details of the proposition. I put it to the House and to the Government, as reasonable men, now that we have been obliged to accept this general proposition—not by overwhelming majorities, but such majorities as they can scrape together—that there is no propriety in asking the House to discuss the 473 details of the various propositions they bring forward. In the interest of the peace and harmony of this House, which I value even more than the Government, judging from their action, seeing that nothing can be gained in the progress of business or any advantage at all in heaven or earth or under the earth by further proceedings, I should advise the acceptance of the Motion which has been made. If the unhappy necessity should be placed upon me I am perfectly ready to fight from now until next Monday. I think it would not be wise for the Government to force such action upon us. In the interest of peace, harmony, and decency even, I think it would be well to accept this Motion for adjournment.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 257; Noes 283.—(Division List, No. 178.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Rochester)
said, he thought hon. Members opposite must see how impossible it was to deal with important Amendments at that time of the morning. He did not want to go into details, but he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the whole treatment of the Civil servants in Ireland would be crowded out from discussion by their action. He was sure that the Home Secretary must understand that these things ought to be discussed. He had only mentioned one, but there were a large number of other Amendments. When the Government reflected upon this, they would see it was quite impossible to discuss the whole subject at this time in the morning. It was not a question of the Opposition being tired. He did not think the Opposition was tired. What they wanted was to submit their Amendments to the dispassionate consideration of the Government. He did not think that the Members of the Government were at that moment in a very lively condition, but that was only natural, seeing how much work was demanded of them. He was a comparatively new Member of the House but he had known nights of this kind before, and he had never known them to succeed. It was quite impossible to do sober business at that time in the morning, so the Government should make a virtue of necessity and let them go home to bed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Viscount Cranborne.)
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I shall be very happy to give dispassionate consideration to any Amendments that the noble Lord may like to move. It is not our fault that these Amendments have not been brought forward earlier. The noble Lord has said that he never knew an instance when at this time in the morning an important Motion of this kind was made.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The Resolution of the 10th June, 1887, was passed by the Closure at half-past 3 in the morning. No notice was given of any Amendment, which the Government of that day did not think necessary at all, and, there being many Amendments to be moved, the Speaker put the Closure. All we ask is that the Amendments which hon. Gentlemen desire to propose to this Motion should now be put. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who spoke in a conciliatory tone, told us a long time ago that the Debate on the general question had closed. We have only to take his word for that.
§ MR. HARRY S. FOSTER
I was quite ready to take my Leader's advice, but the right hon. Gentleman is entirely misquoting it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I should like to know, but I am not sure; but I think the right hon. Gentleman said the Debate was over, and it appears to be over. The best thing we can do is to—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman has given a version of what I said with which I cannot agree. He has quoted an observation made about 12.30, in which I ventured to give advice to the House and to the Government, that we should consider that the Main Question was disposed of, and that we should go on to debate the details to-morrow. The right hon. Gentleman remembers very accurately a part of my advice, but very conveniently declines to remember the other half. I suggested a reasonable compromise, which would have given us some sleep, which it 475 appears now we shall not get. Do not let them say that while they rejected the compromise we were bound to it. There are two sides to this thing, and it is not for one party to give up everything and the other to give up nothing. The right ton. Gentleman seems to think there is some parallel between the case of 1887 and the case we are now discussing. I can assure him that in the matters to which he alluded there is no parallel at all. In 1887 the Debate was, indeed, prolonged by a small and irresponsible faction at a late hour of the evening. It was not supported by the then Opposition, now the Government; and, above all, it was not supported by the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) who imitated the example set him by his Leader and went to bed. If the right hon. Gentleman will take the trouble to look through the reports of the Debates, I think he will find that not a single one of the then responsible Opposition went into the Lobby on the Main Question. That is the first distinction; the second distinction I would draw is in the limited number of persons concerned. If I recollect rightly, the normal majority of the Government of the day was about 70. The majority by which they carried these Resolutions was 160. I speak from memory, but I am sure my memory is not far out. Instead of the normal majority of the present Government being over 70, it is just about 40, and, instead of the normal majority being increased while discussing the Resolution, we find it has fallen very sadly off. There is, therefore, the greatest distinction both in the absolute numbers of the House who desire to settle the question, and those who desire to go on. There is the greatest distinction in the numbers to take part in the Debate, and in all the circumstances attending the Debate. There is one other distinction to which I venture to call the attention of the Government. There really was, broadly speaking, only one proposition contained in the Resolution of 1887. It was that the Bill should be closured on a certain day. Your proposal is of a highly complex character—namely, to divide the time for the consideration of the Bill into four weeks, and it is a matter for proper and careful consideration whether these watertight compartments into which the Bill is divided are big enough, and if they are, whether the distribution 476 of the business between one and the other is proper or not. It is not a most absurd attempt of the exercise of the power of the majority to try and divide this Bill? I do not require to speak of any for-bearance, because the force is upon our side, and I have known even relatively small minorities even in this kind of contest. But to suppose that a minority which was beaten by only 27 two hours ago, and by 26 a few minutes ago, to suppose that such a minority is in a position in which it is necessary to use strong language is really absurd. It would be impossible for us to even attempt to deal with all the Amendments on the Paper to-night, and I am sure the Government will quite realise that that is so.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I hope, Sir, I shall say nothing to ruffle the susceptibilities of any Member of this House, but I wish to make an appeal to Her Majesty's Government to reconsider the situation. I think it would be very much better if the Government had accepted the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition—namely, to leave the Main Question until to-morrow morning at 2 o'clock, and then deal with the Amendments in detail. I am sorry that was not complied with, and now what is the situation in which we are placed? As the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has said, it is a very complex Resolution, concerned with allotments of space in the Bill and the space of time which shall be devoted to the consideration of the Bill. Now, I do not consider that any Member of Her Majesty's Government can consider that they have necessarily solved that problem in the best way, or, at all events, that they have solved it in such a way that no suggestion should be made as to how the work should be distributed. If we are to start at this hour of the morning the consideration in detail of the distribution of labour and time, may we not consider whether or not it is a work which it is possible to accomplish? I would suggest as a matter of the barest common sense that we should not attempt a work which I am sure hon. Members opposite will agree with me cannot possibly be done The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) knows very well it cannot be done, and why it cannot be done. Now, Sir, another point to which I would like to refer is this. My right hon. Friend 477 the Chancellor of the Exchequer said what security have we got that the Main Question may be considered disposed of? It may be re-opened. I believe he may trust to that extent to the Opposition that it will not be re-opened. If that amount of confidence is not withheld the present difficulty can be settled by agreeing to withdraw the present Motion for the adjournment of the House, and by moving the first Amendment and adjourning upon that.
§ MR. COURTNEY
No; we would be debating specific Amendments. Because I know very well there are other Amendments to be put down and to be proposed, and which will necessarily occupy considerable time, but they would, if we adjourned, now be printed on the Paper and circulated in the morning. And I have an Amendment of my own which is framed solely in the interests of Her Majesty's Government. I do, therefore, appeal to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has authority over his friends behind him and who has experience and knowledge of this House, to consider the necessity of accepting the suggestion that we should separate now and begin to-morrow the further consideration of the first Amendment.
§ MR. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)
I cannot accept the suggestion just made, although it has the undoubted and uncommon personal authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. If the House were to accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman and to adopt the course which he recommends, and open the Debate upon the first Amendment, and were then to adjourn, it would still be open to the Opposition after the Debate upon the Amendments had concluded to resume the Debate on the Main Question. There is no Rule or usage which would prevent any Member of the House after the text of the Resolution had been amended very exhaustively to resume the Debate on the Main Question; and I perceive, Mr. Speaker, that you accept that proposition, and, therefore, notwithstanding the high authority of the right hon. Gentleman, he is now overruled by a higher authority. It is perfectly evident, if you were to accept this position, we would find ourselves in a worse posi- 478 tion to-morrow. I have nearly as much experience of all-night sittings as the right hon. Gentleman, and I knew some that were fruitful. I do not agree with him that the thing cannot be done. I believe if the Government stick to their guns the thing can and will be done. I must say I am surprised at the attitude of the Opposition, for it is a matter of common knowledge in the House that one of the official Members of the Opposition, a gentleman who also, I believe, holds the office of Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, made arrangements that the staff should be kept up all night. After the Opposition have gone to the trouble of making these arrangements that the staff should be kept up all night I think they should be willing to sit up all night themselves. We do not boast about sitting up till Monday next if necessary; but perhaps the absence of boasting is not to be taken as an evidence of want of strength of determination. We are perfectly willing to meet the Opposition in any test in which they may be willing to engage. I must say I cannot understand the reluctance of the Opposition to proceed. They say the Resolution is of great importance. No doubt it is of great consequence, but what is the objection of the Opposition to the Resolution? It is that the time specified for each of the divisions of the Bill is not sufficient time. The practical objection to the Resolution is that time enough is not given.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, no. I was comparatively indifferent to that. My particular objection is to the interference with the rights of Parliament.
§ MR. SEXTON
The right hon. Gentleman answered that point some time ago, because he said the principle of the Resolution was accepted. Very well, the principle is accepted, and the question is as to the rights of Parliament, of which I think the right hon. Gentleman is the strangest possible advocate. The, Resolution is of some length and deals with this question in the simplest and plainest English, and it requires no legal skill and no consideration in order to suggest Amendments. It only requires one to say one day instead of another for the conclusion of the Debate on each division of the Bill, and the House is as well able to deal with any such Amendment now as at any other time. I, therefore, invite the Opposition to present 479 these simple Amendments to one or other of these sub-sections for the consideration of the House. I have only to say that several hours have been wantonly thrown away to-night, as several weeks have been already deliberately wasted. The electors of this country issued their mandate to be carried into effect.
§ MR. SEXTON
The United Kingdom. Who are the Separatists? You or we? It is you. We speak of the electors of the United Kingdom. You wish to separate the electors of England from the electors of Ireland. Well, Sir, I say that the Government have perhaps a too tender regard for the traditions of Parliament. These traditions were violated and the basis of Parliament fundamentally altered six years ago by the right hon. Gentleman who appears as the advocate of these rights to-night. I think, then, that the Government have too tender a regard for these traditions, and they have already suffered some disparagement in the country in consequence, and in my humble judgment and opinion, which I offer in all frankness and with all respect, if having entered on this struggle they desist before they win they will expose themselves to public contempt.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It may perhaps assist our consideration if I say in response to the appeal made by the hon. Gentleman that I think I am in a position to say that if the Amendments were disposed of there would be no disposition in any single individual of the Unionist Party to attempt again to raise the Main Question.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, the hon. Member for North Kerry had said truly enough that if the Amendments were passed the consideration of the Main Question might be resumed; but surely the hon. Member did not imagine that the opposition was going to be carried to that extent or anything like it. There had, in his opinion, been a perfectly fair and reasonable Debate on the Main Question. They were now concerned with the Amendments in detail, and he was perfectly certain, as the Leader of the Opposition had said, that there would be no disposition to resume the consideration of the Main Question after the consideration of the Amendments. There was 480 another point to which he would refer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was always referring to the proceedings on the Crimes Bill as regards the closure of the Debate. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not present in the House then. The right hon. Gentleman, with the whole Front Opposition Bench, left the House, and were not present at the close of the Debate. The strength of the minority on that occasion was simply 91, while to-night there was a minority of no less than 257 contending against the House entering upon the consideration of the Amendments at 3 o'clock in the morning, while all the majority the Government could muster in favour of going on with this unreasonable procedure was 26. He would lay down a proposal which hon. Members would not dispute, and it was that a small minority with a good case could defeat the largest majority in proceedings like the present, and when at that hour of the morning they found a minority of 257 contending for a perfectly just cause, the Government could not triumph, and they knew it. The Government knew that they could not coerce the House of Commons in that way, especially when it would not be the Government time they were taking up, but that time which the Government out of their generosity had allowed for the consideration of the Bill. All he had got to say was that, so far as the Opposition were concerned, they were ready for the fight.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he was perfectly willing to sit there for another 10 hours, but a great number of Members had been in the House attending Committees for several hours. He himself had been there for nearly 16 hours, and was ready to remain 16 more, but he thought it was a strong order that required Members of Committees to be in the House at 11.30 a.m., and then kept them there till past 3 in the morning considering revolutionary proposals. It had been said that there was a possibility of the discussion on the Main Question being re-opened. He thought the Opposition must agree that there was no fear of that happening. A pledge had been given, and if the Government would now give way, and allow the, House to adjourn, there would be no idea of opening the Main Question again. He must say, however, that while in the Resolution there were only four proposi- 481 tions concerning the time of the House, there was another section of it which was of a very strange and formidable character. It was thatAfter the passing of the Resolution no dilatory Motion shall be received unless moved by a Minister.He wished to put down an Amendment safeguarding the Government with regard to that particular proposal, and, considering the importance of this Resolution and the various questions that must be raised in it, and also the fact that there was a minority of 257 in the House at that hour of the morning, determined that they should win their cause, it was folly and madness in the Government to think that they could possibly subdue the Opposition. It would be much better, before the temper of the Opposition got warm, and while everything was yet pleasant, to let them go home to bed, and they could then return at 2 o'clock fresh and invigorated for the continuance of the work.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, he wished to address the titular and not the real Leaders of the Opposition. Some observations would convince them that the Debate must adjourn. In the first place, the Resolution was by no means so simple as the Member for North Kerry (Mr. Sexton) seemed to think. They were told that the proceedings under this Resolution were not to be interrupted under the Standing Orders. Did that mean that until the 27th July there would be a suspension of the 12 o'clock Rule? Then it was provided that at the appointed hour the Chairman should forthwith put any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair, and then next immediately proceed to put the clause of the Bill. Well, the Government themselves had put down a large number of Amendments. They had, for instance, an Amendment to Clause 39, an Amendment to Clause 27, an Amendment to Clause 28, an Amendment to Clause 14, and an Amendment to Schedule 3. By the strangest coincidence he himself had Amendments to all these clauses, and his Amendments came in before the first word of these clauses, and the result would be—as his Amendments would be likely to be discussed at considerable length—that when the appointed hour came his Amendments, being already put from the Chair, would 482 be put, the Government Amendments would be passed by, and the Government's own Amendments would be wiped out by the Government's own Resolution. Had the Government considered that, or was the Resolution so simple as the hon. Member for North Kerry seemed to think? If the Government intended to Closure his Amendments and to wipe out their own it was a very serious matter, because the Government's Amendments to the Bill were very extensive. The Government proposed to amend four clauses and one schedule, to postpone three clauses, to omit seven clauses and one schedule, to propose five new clauses and one new schedule. Thus in a Bill of 40 clauses and seven schedules the Government proposed to amend, omit, or renew 18 clauses and three schedules. In other words, the Government, who complained of Amendments and had provided a most drastic Resolution for preventing the entertaining of any further Amendments, had themselves amended a good half of their own Bill. It was a new Bill. The Prime Minister said that the Government had a mandate from the country to deal with the Bill. Which Bill? The Bill of the First Reading, the Bill of the Second Reading, the Bill now before the House, or the Bill as it was proposed to amend it? What did this Standing Order clause mean? It was in pursuance of this that they were attempted to be closured that night. It was in pursuance of his intention to support the liberties of that House that he supported the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 242; Noes 270.—(Division List, No. 179.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Conybeare (Cornwall, Camborne) rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that if any Resolution was to be moved some one had better begin. The time fixed in the Resolution would be found not more than sufficient for the purpose of the Bill. He, therefore, submitted to the House that, whilst this Order remained in force, it must not be open to any Member to move the Adjournment of the House after Questions.
§ MR. SPEAKER (referring to Mr. Byrne, who rose to address the House)
Does the hon. Member rise to Order, or has he an Amendment before that which the hon. Member has just proposed?
§ MR. BYRNE
said he had to move, by way of Amendment to Sub-section (a), to omit "Thursday the 6th" and insert "Friday the 14th." The House was aware of the course Sub-section (a) proposed. The preceding clauses, 5 to 8 inclusive, would have to be concluded not later than 10 p.m. on Thursday, 6th July. The object of his Amendment was to afford an opportunity of considering the four clauses included in this sub-section—the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th. The 5th clause related to the Executive. He did not think anyone would contradict him when he said that this was at least as important a subject as any that had yet been discussed in Committee. They would have, when that was on for consideration, to consider in its widest and fullest sense the true meaning and scope of the Executive. This was as important a point as any yet brought before the House, and he did think it was unreasonable in doling out time for discussing these various matters that so small a dole should be given to them as the time between this and Thursday next. There was also a question of one of the safeguards under the Act—namely, one of the two vetos that should be given. On that any discussion which might take place should, he thought, take certainly two evenings, and even, possibly, three. In another clause they had to consider the constitution of the new Council, and the number of members who were to be divided among the constituencies, and the number of constituencies. There were a number of important points connected with these matters which must be considered. At the end of six years it was proposed that the Irish House was to have the power to change every constituency, the only check put upon them being that they were to have due regard to the number of voters in the constituency. That did not exhaust the subject, and he maintained that the time suggested for the discussion of this matter was not reasonable time. He ventured to submit that the time put forward in his Amendment to add another week so as to give a few days for the discussion of these important questions was not at all un- 484 reasonable, and should, he thought, recommend itself to the Government for their acceptance. If it was a proper measure to dole out time to be occupied in Committee on this Bill, it would have been much fairer and more reasonable to have given some weeks' notice beforehand to give the House an opportunity of considering what they regard as important questions, some of which they deemed to be of vital importance. If it was said they had got till the 31st of July to discuss all these points, he would say that the time was insufficient. The Amendment he had brought before the House was based on these considerations; they would have to try and combine many Acts of Parliament in one. It was only by trying new experiments in legislation that the Government were able to force this Motion down the throats of the House in the way proposed; and he asked in all sincerity, having regard to the importance of this question, if it would not be reasonable and fair that the Government should make this concession, and say that 10 days were not too much for this discussion? They would then be telling the country that which they had not yet had the courage to say, that up to a certain date there should not be closure upon this Bill, that they had not yielded to pressure from Benches behind and Members below the Gangway. If Members got up behind the Front Bench or below the Gangway they should be told that this course was reasonable and fair. It was the first duty of the Government not to yield to that kind of pressure.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 5, to leave out the words "Thursday 6th July," and insert the words "Friday 14th July."—(Mr. Byrne.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'Thursday 6th July' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
There is one objection to the Amendment, that it has fixed Friday at 10 o'clock, when we shall not be occupied on this Bill at all, because it will be an Evening Sitting, and will be occupied with other Business. The hon. Member was a little in error also as to the time which he said had been, or would be, appropriated to these clauses. He said it would be four days only. We have already spent one day on Clause 5. If the hon. Member thinks we should spend another day this week 485 and one day next, we should have been three days on that clause. I do say that a day and a-half per clause is a fair average. The Government have got accustomed to spending nine days on a clause, but I do say that is not a fair average time for a clause in the House of Commons. In the course of my observations, I have found that everything that can be said on a clause can be well said in a day. Some gentlemen seem to think it desirable to repeat their arguments over and over again, but that does not add to the strength of their argument. Two or three gentlemen on the other side are generally oblivious of the fact that all that is to be said on a question has been said. Therefore, if it is true that there has been a day and a half to each clause, I think it must have been very fairly discussed, and I doubt whether a proposal for addition to that time can be fairly put before the House.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he did not rise for the purpose of continuing the Debate on this special question, but he must say that the clauses constituting the Irish Legislature would require more time than the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to think they were entitled to or deserved. The discussion on which they had now entered was an illustration of the inconvenience, or rather the impossibility, of discussion being adequately conducted. They were there to discuss a series of Amendments, and their arguments on the subject at that hour (3.30 a.m.) would certainly not reach the public outside. They would not be reported in any degree whatever. This was a discussion which might take place under conditions where all the arguments would be made known to the outside world. He would appeal to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say whether, as a mere matter of discipline, this Debate might be adjourned, and that they might resume it to-morrow. That arrangement was desired on both sides, in order that the discussion might be conducted in a reasonable way becoming to men of business. He begged to move the adjournment of the Debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Courtney).
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I must get up again and appeal to the Government 486 in order to avoid any unpleasantness. I wish to know whether the Government will or will not say what it is they want to gain? Surely we have a right to put that to them, and from that I do not shrink. Having got so far, I would ask whether we cannot now adjourn and go comfortably home to bed. The whole of these Amendments can be taken tomorrow by 7 o'clock, and I would suggest that this course of common sense should be taken. It is our desire that we should part to-night in amity and in peace. We cannot part at a reasonably good hour, but we can part in reasonably good temper.
§ An hon. MEMBER: Does the right hon. Gentleman mean he will guarantee that the Debate will close to-morrow?
§ Several hon. MEMBERS: No guarantee.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I will do everything in my power to carry out the understanding faithfully. I never thought anybody would depart from an undertaking to close at 7 o'clock; and in my opinion that time should be adequate for the discussion of the Amendments.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the right hon. Gentleman had asked what the Ministerial Party expected to gain. The question was what the Opposition intended to give. It would not be common sense, having sat up till that hour of the morning, to risk postponement until to-morrow, and then find themselves in the absurd quandary of being called upon to put off further discussion until Monday. He could not assent until it was understood from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Tory Party that the sense of the House might be taken on the New Rules before the close of the Morning Sitting to-morrow. He thought Mr. Speaker should then be able to intervene. [" No, no! "] That objection showed what was in the minds of some gentlemen. He did not see why any gentleman should object to the Speaker intimating his opinion that the question might be adequately discussed by 7 o'clock to-morrow. For his own part, he was willing to concur in any reasonable arrangement. He was willing that the whole Morning Sitting should be given provided that the sense of the House was taken upon the Rules; but to suppose that the Government having now spent 12 hours on this Resolution should be con- 487 tent to throw them over from tomorrow until Monday, that was a proposal which he was sure neither his friends nor the Government would agree to.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
; I am sure what has been said by the hon. Member for North Kerry is extremely reasonable, and I am only sorry he did not bring it forward sooner. He has been good enough to appeal to me. There was not the slightest idea of this Amendment occupying more than to-morrow morning, and for gentlemen who sit near me I will undertake that discussion will not extend beyond 7 o'clock.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
said, he should have supposed the Prime Minister would be glad to give some assurance on this subject, and he thought the House must regret—he was not going to say anything in the slightest degree offensive—but he thought the House must regret that the Prime Minister was unavoidably absent. The Prime Minister would admit it would be a just act on his part to have acceded to the repeated requests made by the Opposition for the Adjournment. It was perfectly evident that the right hon. Gentleman who now led the House (Sir W. Harcourt) was too deeply imbued with the demeanour and spirit of the Plantagenets to listen to those appeals. He should, at that time of the night (3.45 a.m.), deprecate the use of language which tended to irritate the spirit of the House. He would like to point out that it was perfectly evident the right hon. Gentleman who now led the House was too deeply imbued with the dominating spirit of the Plantagenets to be a safe guide in the conduct of a hard Debate. [Cries of"Divide!"]
§ Mr. Dalziel
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put "; but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
said, he was entitled to be heard [Cries of "Order!" and "Divide!"] and he hoped the Government would not be unreasonable at that hour of the morning.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I have waited to ascertain the opinions from all parts of the House, as it is the duty of any one in charge of the interests of the House to 488 do. I understand that the Leader of the Opposition has given an undertaking, to which the right hon. Member for West Birmingham has assented, that if the Debate be adjourned the discussion of the Resolution will be concluded at the Morning Sitting.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow at Two of the clock.