§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do meet To-morrow, at Twelve o'clock."—(Mr. W. E. Gladstone.)
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
On this Motion I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman what business he proposes to take to-morrow, and what he thinks with regard to the hour at which the House should rise. I believe it would be for the convenience of both sides of the House, and would be 1407 in consonance with the wish of the immense majority of hon. Members, if some arrangement could be come to by which our proceedings should terminate at a reasonable hour. I think, at the same time, I may be allowed to make one or two further observations with regard to the necessity, if necessity it is, which has driven the right hon. Gentleman—if he says he has been driven—to lay this proposal before the House. I presume it is in consequence of the course of business during the present week. The business yesterday assumed a most extraordinary course, and I am bound to say that if the right, hon. Gentleman thinks that by meeting at 12 o'clock to-morrow we have reparation for shortening the discussion on the Vote on Account he is entirely mistaken. To meet on Thursday before Easter for such important business as the right hon. Gentleman suggests is unparalleled in the annals of Parliament. We are to meet on the Thursday before Easter to discuss changes in Parliamentary procedure that exceed in magnitude any that have, within my memory, been submitted to Parliament. The notice of business we are to discuss to-morrow goes, I venture to say, beyond anything ever proposed by a Government. It has happened occasionally late in the Session with reference to particular business to ask for such Sittings. But to discuss Motions to take the whole time of the House— leaving to the despotic power of the right hon. Gentleman to select particular Wednesdays—to take all Tuesdays, and that not as has previously happened after a statement of what Bills will be abandoned—to do this is an unparalleled proceeding. But I do not know that it is more extraordinary than the course which the right hon. Gentleman took yesterday upon the Vote on Account. He came in at the end of the Sitting and moved the Closure. I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit that there was a prolonged portion of the afternoon during which he did not appear in the House. Such a step as the right hon. Gentleman took yesterday might entirely neutralise all the privileges of the House as regards discussion. The right hon. Gentleman could not allege that there was any failure on the part of Members in this part of the House to be short in their speeches, and to discuss the matter in a 1408 Parliamentary way. But what happened was that a large number of Members on the right hon. Gentleman's own side entered into a very elaborate discussion of one of the earliest Votes, and not only did the Home Secretary speak, but the Lord Advocate also spoke, although it was suggested that it was unnecessary for him to do so, and, in short, Members on the Front Ministerial Bench all but talked out the Vote on Account, so that Members on this side lost entirely the opportunity of raising important questions of which they had given notice. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman—if I may make some such Parliamentary hypothesis as the Chancellor of the Exchequer indulges in occasionally— whether a Government might not encourage in that way Members on their own side to speak, and so get rid of a number of inconvenient speeches from the other side. The right hon. Gentleman will say that the Motion for the closure yesterday was put upon the footing that the exigencies of the Public Service made it absolutely necessary. There was no such absolute necessity. The right hon. Gentleman might have moved that the Debate on the Vote on Account should be continued to-day at 12 o'clock, as we suggested, or the notice yesterday might have been given in a form which would have allowed ample time without closing the Debate at half-past 5. But, instead of doing either of these things, the right hon. Gentleman has set this most dangerous precedent of cutting short the Debate on the Vote on Account, not because of the exigencies of the Public Service, but because he wished to have a particular Bill discussed to-day during the time of our Sitting. The right hon. Gentleman has often told the public that if he once carried Home Rule he would take but a very small part in public affairs. Well, then, is it right now that he should lend his high authority to curtail in this manner the privileges of Parliament, and to change entirely the practice of Parliament? I think the right hon. Gentleman will ultimately regret that when, as he explained, the Report could be taken on Thursday, he followed the extraordinary course yesterday which surprised us all. The right hon. Gentleman will admit that this matter is treated with some seriousness by us on this side of the 1409 House, and that the precedent is a most serious one, because a Government may push off the Vote on Account to the last moment and then curtail the Debate on the ground of the exigencies of the Public Service. To ask us on Thursday to give up private Members' privileges on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and at the same time to cut short the Debate on the Vote on Account, are two unprecedented steps. It is impossible that Members should be induced in this way to part with the privileges they have always possessed. What the right hon. Gentleman calls obstruction was not phenomenal this time. The right hon. Gentleman must know that it was far from being equal to what occurred when hon. Members below the Gangway were reducing the system to a science, with an ingenuity and persistence which has become memorable in the annals of Parliament. If there has been anything exceptional, it has not been done by the Opposition, but by that Party in the House by whom the right hon. Gentleman is forcing forward his measures. I must therefore enter my protest against the course which has been taken. I do not know whether there is any advantage in meeting at 12 o'clock to-morrow. Whether I can offer any advice whatever as to what should be done will depend upon the answer that may be given as to the course of business to-morrow, and as to when we are likely to rise. If we are to take the Report on the Vote on Account, and to discuss the extremely unusual proposals which the right hon. Gentleman is to make with respect to the time of the House, that, I think, is all the right hon. Gentleman can possibly expect from the House on the Thursday before Easter. If he should say that when these matters are disposed of he is willing that the House should rise, I should not oppose the Motion. But if we are to sit on discussing other Bills, I do not see why the House should meet at 12 o'clock.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
The right hon. Gentleman's speech was perfectly pertinent as regards one-tenth of the matter contained in it. He has put a fair and proper question as to the business to-morrow, and I will answer it. The first business to-morrow will be the Motion for the time of the House, and if the House should be able to 1410 dispose of the Report of Supply to-night, we shall then proceed with the Debate on the Employers' Liability Bill. As I am given to understand that hon. Members have made speeches of considerable length on the subject already, I should hope the Debate may be soon disposed of. As to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, if I were disposed to be led into the snare he has laid out for me, he has prepared the ground for a speech of considerable length on my part. But in my opinion the greater part of what he has said is totally and absolutely irrelevant to the Motion before the House. This Motion is the mere fulfilment of a pledge given publicly by me yesterday in the House. I stated publicly that it was a question of the feeling of the House whether it would be more convenient to meet at 3 o'clock in the ordinary course or at 12 o'clock. I pledged myself to make that Motion on one condition—that it should be found agreeable to the general sense of the House, and communications having been made to me through the ordinary channels, I have made this Motion. It is not made for the convenience of Members on this side more than on that, but we came to the conclusion that it would be for the convenience of all Parties in the House that the meeting should be at 12 o'clock. The right hon. Gentleman has scarcely alluded to this question, which is the only question before the House; consequently I am left where I was before I made the Motion, with this fact before me, that the right hon. Gentleman seems to have doubts as to the convenience of meeting at 12 o'clock. If these doubts are spread among other Members after the shilly-shally declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, and if I understand that this Motion is not agreeable, unquestionably I shall consider it my duty to withdraw it. Sooner than the Motion should cause delay in proceeding with the first Bill on the Paper, I at once offer frankly to withdraw it.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
If there be any foundation for the charge of shilly-shallying, it most certainly cannot be made against Members on this side of the House. My right hon. Friend stated that, if you will undertake that to-morrow's Sitting shall close at a reasonable time, then it may 1411 be for the convenience of the House that it should meet at 12 o'clock. But for all that we know we may be lauded in a discussion at the arbitrary will of the right hon. Gentleman which may carry us through an all-night Sitting. The arbitrary dealings of the Government yesterday would justify hon. Members on this side In any course they might think fit to pursue. The right hon. Gentleman said he was not going to make any attempt whatever to answer what he called the nine-tenths of the speech of my right hon. Friend. I think he exercised a very wise discretion. He would have found it uncommonly difficult to do so. I think the proceedings of yesterday afternoon constituted one of the grossest scandals upon the constitutional privileges of Members of this House. [Laughter.] Yes, Sir, and if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone was in conversation with Mr. Marjoribanks) will allow me to interrupt that agreeable conversation which he is having—[Cries of "Order! "] I am addressing observations to the right hon. Gentleman, and surely I have a right to ask for his attention, particularly when he challenges my statement.
§ MR. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)
I rise to Order. Is the right hon. Gentleman, on the Question that the House should meet at 12 instead of 3, entitled to go into any other question than that of the convenience of the arrangement proposed?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to raise any question with regard to what passed yesterday. If it is intended to challenge the action of the Chairman in assenting to, or the action of the House in voting, the closure, that must be done by a Motion after notice. With reference to the Question whether the House shall meet at 12 or 3, that does in one sense open up the question of the business which is to be taken. I imagine that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to refer to the suggestion that the House should rise earlier if it meets at 12 than if it meets at 3. As I have said, no reference can be made to the closure last night. The sole Question is whether 12 o'clock or 3 o'clock is the more convenient.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I need hardly assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I had no intention on this occasion of canvassing 1412 the conduct of the Chairman yesterday, I was referring to the action of Her Majesty's Government alone in the course of the proceedings yesterday, and I was simply following the references made by my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman opposite to those proceedings.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I think the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken, and that he did refer to the proceedings of yesterday.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman said the observations of my right hon. Friend were not legitimate.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If I may be allowed to intervene, it is to say that any reference to the application of the closure would he irregular. When the closure is accepted and voted on, it is the act of the House itself.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I will make no reference to the closure, but I should like to ask you, Sir, whether I am at liberty to canvass the action of the Government yesterday, so far as it relates to the necessity of placing this Motion on the Paper. If I am not in Order in doing that, I shall avail myself of whatever opportunity may arise for making observations upon the conduct of the Government, which I think was a gross scandal, and an outrage upon the privilege of Members.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.