THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER rose, amidst Ministerial cheers, to move—
That for the remainder of the Session Government Business do have priority on Tuesday, that on Friday the House do meet at Two of the Clock; and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to Tuesday and the Morning Sitting on Friday.
He said: Sir,—In rising to make the same Motion which I made on April 9 last year, I do not think it necessary for me to repeat all the reasons for making that Motion, which I made three weeks earlier than in the Session in which we are met to-day. I founded that Motion (which the House was good enough to sanction) upon three reasons. The first reason was the date indicated by the calendar, and the Government make the identical Motion three weeks later than last year. The second reason was founded on the business that had to be transacted, and the third reason was founded on the relation of the Government to that business. I pointed out what is hardly necessary to point out again, that under the Standing Orders the Government have at their disposal for the transaction of business only eight days in each month. I endeavoured last year to draw the attention of the House to the amount and the nature of
the business the Government had to transact in that period. First of all they have to transact the financial business connected with the Budget, then they have to deal with the Estimates in Supply, and occasionally with administrative business, and what I may call administrative Bills. I pointed out also that there were a number of what might be called neutral and non-controversial Bills, Bills not greatly debated, but which are required from time to time by the public necessity. Then, lastly—the principal category—political and controversial measures which every Government must introduce. I ventured on that occasion to meet an argument which I thought might be raised—that Governments ought not to have any political or controversial measures at all, but should confine themselves altogether to measures which were non-political and non-controversial. But I need not renew that argument because the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, entirely agreed, on that occasion, with the observations I made. He said—referring to what I had observed—
The right hon. Gentleman went on to talk of Party measures, and appeared to think there were those on this side of the House who objected to bringing forward such measures. If there be such critics I will not rank myself among them. Of course the Government exists for the purpose of bringing forward Party measures, and the Opposition, as an Opposition, exists for the purpose of criticising them.
That is a fair description of the situation as to Party measures. He continued—
I make no complaint of the action of the Government in introducing Party measures, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make no complaint when we proceed to criticise them. What I complain of is that the Government are so long in bring forward their controversial measures.
That complaint cannot be repeated this year, for measures of that kind have, to a large degree, been brought forward. These are the kinds of business the Government have to deal with; and the position of the Government in recent years—I am not speaking of one Government more than another, but of all Governments—has been very much changed for the worse in respect of time within my Parliamentary recollection. First of all, take the Debate on the
Address. I recollect when one night more often than not sufficed. Hardly ever did we exceed two nights. Now ten days or a fortnight is considered a most moderate amount to devote to the Address. That was the number of days occupied by the Debate on the Address this year. Then there is the practice, which in former times did not prevail, of extended Debates on the First Reading of Government Bills. Then, Sir, a new burden had arisen, and which, I confess, so far as I am responsible for business, I greatly object to, and that is the constant interjection of private Bills at the beginning of business. All I say is, that it is a new inroad upon the Government time: and I observe that Gentlemen have taken very good care always to put down these Bills which are to be debated on Government nights. That is a very large reduction of the time at the disposal of the Government. There is another thing—Supply takes, in the early part of the Session, a much larger share of time than it used to take in former days. I have a list of the days devoted to Supply before the end of the financial year in former times, and I find that the number is six or seven, or at the most eight. But now we are getting up to as much as 12 days, this year 11 days being given to Supply, and that is very nearly double the time which used to be given a few years ago.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Yes. It includes the Army and Navy votes, and all those votes which it is necessary to take before the close of the financial year. In the last three years there has been more time given to those Votes than in any previous three years under similar circumstances. I am not criticising, I am not condemning, and I am not complaining of it. I am only showing that year by year the time at the disposal of the Government is trenched upon so as to make it increasingly necessary, as the Session proceeds, that the Government should have more time placed at their disposal for the conduct of public business. Of course, I know that there will be renewed against this Motion the objections of the non-official Members, as I described them last year. I was 47 told that I ought to have called them "the non-official and ex-official Members,'' and I adopt that corrected definition. I have often heard it stated in the House that non-official Members regard the two Front Benches as their natural enemies. I must protest against that view for both sides of the House, because, after all, the two Front Benches are the creation of the non-official Members. They are their humble servants; they are the instruments to carry out their wishes: and if they are not satisfied with their conduct they can dismiss them any day they please. That is equally true of Gentlemen sitting on the opposite side of the House. They are the creation and creatures of the non-official Members, and the two Front Benches are charged with giving effect to the views, on both sides of the question, of the parties whom they respectively represent. Therefore, to treat them as the natural enemies of the non-official Members is an unnatural view of the case. I will say this to the non-official Members of the House—that it is only through the Members of the Front Bench that they can hope to carry out the policy of which they are the promoters, and which they desire to see carried into effect. It may be that to a great degree they are the pioneers of the principles and the measures of the Government; but when those principles are taken up, and when measures are framed, the non-official Members must depend upon the Government to carry forward those measures and to give them effect. It is only upon that condition that the Government can call upon the non-official Members for their support; and the two ought not to be regarded as antagonistic interests, as if the Government were taking the time of the House for some purpose of their own. That is not so. They take time for the purpose of promoting those principles and measures which they understand the majority by whom they are supported desire to see carried into effect. It is for these reasons that adequate time must, under all circumstances, be given to the Government for transacting the business to which I have already referred. And it is upon these grounds that we respectfully ask the House to give us those facilities which they gave us last year at an earlier period. The House has had 48 experience of the result of the concession and of the indulgence which they gave to the Government last year. I believe that the majority of the Gentlemen by whom we are supported are not dissatisfied with the work which the Government did as a result of the time which was placed at their disposal. But it was not only the Government's supporters who were satisfied on that subject; we had independent and outside testimony from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. He said:—I do not think that in the history of our legislation for the past 20 years you can find any Parliament in which more has been done—that is, as to the importance of the Bills that have been passed.I hope, therefore, that we shall have the right hon. Gentleman's support, because among the principal Measures of the Government are Measures which the right hon. Gentleman himself approves, and under those circumstances we have some right to look for his support. After obtaining from the House the time we asked for last year, it was my duty on July 18, after the Third Reading of the Budget, to state to the House the Measures which we hoped and expected would, in the time which was then before us, be passed by this House. I painfully remember the derision with which that enumeration was received when I read it. The right hon. Gentleman opposite assured me that the Indian Budget could not be brought on until the end of November if the list of Measures I had read was proceeded with. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham criticised rather strongly, and with a good deal of detail, the enumeration of Measures which I then made; and a Motion for the adjournment of the House to discuss the question was made on the 19th. I have always observed that beforehand there is a disposition, in independent quarters of the House especially, to despond as to the amount of business which it is possible for this House to transact when it chooses. I ventured to hope—and I was considered to be almost insanely sanguine—that the business to which I had referred might be transacted before the end of the month of August. The right hon. Gentleman opposite thought that it would be far on in November 49 before it was done. But I am bound to say that, with the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, my prediction was fulfilled, and the House rose before the end of August, and almost all the Measures which I had enumerated passed through this House, as well as six or eight other Measures which I had not mentioned. That shows that we ought not to be despondent as to the amount of business which the House can do when it likes. I am, perhaps, of a sanguine temperament: but I am encouraged by the experience of last year in thinking that, if the House sets to work, it can get through much more than it is sometimes fancied can be done. I think that the experience of the indulgence and the concession which the House made to us last year is encouraging in that respect. I made a promise on that occasion that, if this indulgence were granted to the Government, they would not abuse it. I claim that we fulfilled that pledge, and that we did not abuse the powers which the House gave to us. Therefore, with great confidence I hope that the House will grant us the same time as last year, three weeks earlier, they granted to us; and I hope that we shall be able to make as good use of that time as we did before. I beg to Move.
§ MR. HENRY SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)
said that he rose as a nonofficial Member to oppose the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, who had not given the House the slightest notion as to how he proposed to use the time for which he was asking. He opposed this Motion, as a private Member of the Opposition, on two grounds. In the first place, it was an entirely premature, unnecessary, and unjustifiable curtailment of the rights of private Members. In the second place, the additional time asked for by the Government was not, by their own confession, intended to be used for practical legislation, but was to be squandered on a sham electioneering programme, not intended to pass. The policy of "filling up the cup" had been much heard of, and possibly the result of recent bye-elections might throw some light on the way in which the cup had been filled. The right hon. Gentleman had made a most conciliatory and courteous appeal to the House. But the time of private Members was about to be 50 taken away, and the effect was the same as if the right hon. Gentleman had made a fighting speech. When a man was going to be executed, it did not much matter to him whether he was led to the scaffold with civility, or whether he was driven there at the point of the bayonet. The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not directed to the non-official Members of the House; it was an obvious, but, he hoped, a vain attempt to square the front Opposition Bench. Dealing with the question, in the first place, under the head of private Members, he showed that this was not the first Motion which had been made this Session.
§ MR. SETON-KARR
said, that at the beginning of the Session a precisely similar Motion was made a few weeks after the Session had opened. In taking this course the Government had broken all previous records, because, though there had been similar Motions before, no Motion had been moved at so early a date in the Session as the present without sufficient grounds. Last Session the first Motion was made in the fifth week of the Session, and in 1893 it was made when the House had been sitting more than a month. It was on these grounds, he thought, that private Members were justified in opposing the premature and unjustifiable infringement of their rights. The Government, however, were so hardened in this species of political crime that of them it might be said facilis descensus Averni; and now they had reached that stage of feeling where they were not inclined to pay any regard to the rights of private Members. There were two classes of Members affected by the Motion—the private Member and those hon. Members who might be described as the official Members, in which class might be included the leaders of parties. There used to be a time when there were only two leaders in the House, but now the number of leaders was a mysterious and uncertain quantity. Including, however, the hon. Member for Northampton, there were no fewer than six leaders in the House, and these helped to form the small minority who might be supposed to look with favour 51 on this Motion. But, on the other hand, there was the bulk of the private Members who represented the commonsense and practical sentiments of the House, and he believed they had been in the majority in the past in initiating every good measure that had passed through the House. Some of the majority had stated in terms of undisguised contempt their scorn for the rights of the private Members. For example, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, when a similar Motion was debated last Session on April 9, 1894, said:—Although I am a private Member, I do not stand here as an advocate for their claims, and I may frankly confess that I do not care a brass farthing what becomes of them.The hon. Member for Waterford was also a leader of a party, and on that occasion the hon. Gentleman used somewhat similar language. But if these hon. and right hon. Gentlemen could speak in terms of such contempt of the rights of private Members, how could they justify the solemn farce that occurred at the beginning of every Session, when several hundreds of Members ballotted for Bills and Motions on the faith that the understanding would be carried out? He would probably be told that private Members made very bad use of their time, and that they did not deserve to retain it. That was an argument derogatory to the dignity of this House. The senior Member for Northampton, at the commencement of this Session, wrote himself down, should he say, an asinine quantity. Luckily for the character of the House, the number of the hon. Member's followers was small; but it would be something like a scandal if the large majority of private Members were to resort to elaborate argument in order to justify them in the assertion of their just rights. There never, indeed, was a Session when private Members made a better use of their time. In the first part of the Session there were two Tuesdays, and only two, which private Members had possession of. On the first Tuesday there was a Motion by the hon. Member for Sheffield on the subject of prison-made goods, which was unanimously accepted by the House and the Government. On the second Tuesday there was a Motion by the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division of Suffolk 52 with regard to the Bimetallic Conference which was also unanimously accepted by her Majesty's Government. Whether that was a willing assent or whether it was squeezed out of them was a question on which he would not offer an opinion. These facts, however, were sufficient to point his argument that private Members had made good use of their time. The fact was under the system by which the Government were constantly taking the time of the House private Members were rapidly being turned into voting machines. In support of that view he would quote from an article written in the Saturday Review by one of the Government's own supporters, the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, which was the more interesting because the hon. Member was a silent Cicero who only broke out when he desired to differ from his own leader.My eye was caught by an article in the Nineteenth Century for this month, by Mr. Sidney Low, the well-known and able editor of the St. James's Gazette, entitled 'The Decline of the House of Commons,' and thinking such a disquisition might possibly be in keeping with my sad surroundings I read it through there and then. I am glad I did, and I hereby heartily advise my fellow-legislators to go and do likewise on their return here. It will do them good, though it may not make them happy. For what Mr. Low says is that the House of Commons withers and the Cabinet is more and more. The Cabinet, he tells us, no matter what party is in power, is swallowing up us rank-and-filesmen, after the manner of Aaron's rod, or the late cannibalistic boa-constrictor of the 'Zoo.' To myself there is no news in all this. I have been saying the same thing in speech and print for two or three years past, not so impressively, I am afraid, as Mr. Low, but still in a way; and what is more, I have put down a Motion on the order-book of the House to have the Cabinet, as salaried Ministers of the Crown, practically chosen and dismissed by ourselves. That seems to me, as a Democrat, though not, I hope, a rule-of-thumb one, to be the true democratic solution of the problem and defence against the danger. I know I shall not be able to bring that Motion on, because the Cabinet will demand, and we shall have to give them, the whole time of the House, thereby, however, providing another proof of the tendency of which Mr. Low, in the article I providentially discovered, warns us, and which in my humble way I seek to arrest.The extract was extremely pertinent to the question. He failed to see the necessity for this Motion, and if hon. Members opposite would only combine with him the alleged necessity would at once vanish. His second point was, that the Government were going to utilise, or rather squander, 53 the time in attempting to carry out a non-practical programme. He need not argue that point: they had it from their own lips. If it was intended to devote the time to a practical measure like the Factories and Workshops Bill, he should probably take a different view of the proposal; but that Bill had been relegated to a Grand Committee, thus excluding the great majority of Members from expressing their views with regard to it. The programme of the Government was a sham programme, and he should, as the Speaker had told him that his Amendment amounted simply to a negative, not move it, but vote against the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman, in making this Motion, said that he made it on two grounds. In the first place, he said that he had had a similar concession made to him before, and in the second place he said he had made excellent use of it; and he then proceeded to prove the second of these statements by a reference, not for the 1st or 2nd or 10th or 20th time, to a quotation from a speech of mine—a quotation which we are told has been published in millions of copies all over the country. He seems to think it has had the favourable effect on the fortunes of the Government which might have been expected. That quotation, separated as usual from the context, has been twisted into a meaning that was never intended, and it does not bear out the contention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I said on the occasion to which he refers—and I am prepared to repeat it—that, as far as I know, no Government in recent times has forced through the House of Commons in a single Session so many measures of the first class. ["Passed, passed!"] No Government had passed through the House of Commons—for they were not passed through the House of Lords—so many measures of first-rate importance in a single Session. I repeat that; but that does not go so far as to say anything in favour of the character of those measures or of the means by which they were passed. As to the character of those measures, that is a matter of opinion between the two sides of the House. Those who sit on this side of the 54 House may think those measures would have been worthy to receive statutory sanction, but we do not think so. As regards the means of passing those measures through this House I hope there will be less difference of opinion, and I venture to say those means were discreditable to the Government and the Party which supports them. Is it a testimonial to the Government—they are thankful for small mercies—to say that by means of the gag and the closure they forced more measures through the House of Commons than any previous Government in the same period? Other Governments have tried to persuade; they have endeavoured to coerce. I make them a present of all they can get out of that statement. What they may fairly complain of is not that they passed so many measures, but that they did not pass twice as many as they did pass. If they had only employed the same means with a little extra vigour they might as easily have passed 40 Bills as 20. On a former occasion the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that circumstances were changed, and the Government, repudiating ancient precedents, would make precedents for themselves. Yes, they have made precedents for themselves and for those who will succeed them. Do not let the Chancellor of the Exchequer imagine that I complain because the Government have, for the first time, established rules which give greater authority to the Government and to the majority. In the present circumstances in which the Opposition find themselves, and having regard to the future, I do not think it is our duty to object to these precedents—not, at all events, on Party grounds. It seems to me that it is not the Party which supports the Government that will have the advantage of these precedents for the longest time; but I would like the House to consider what is the nature of the precedents which have been taken. As the hon. Member who has just sat down has said, you must not look merely to the present Resolution: it is part of a system; you must take it in concert with all the other opportunities which the Government have of facilitating business. This is only a Resolution by which the Government propose to obtain abnormal and exceptional advantages 55 as to the time of the House. Reference has been made to the private Members I am not a defender of what is called the rights of private Members so long as the business is so arranged that those Motion come to the front in which the House takes the slightest possible interest. If the private Members who support the Government now to the number of four or five or six, or whatever their majority may be—if they would give effect to their opinion they would prevent this Motion from being carried; but we know that having made their protest, having deplored this grievous encroachment on their rights, they will go and vote for the encroachment. Under these circumstances, it is not for them that I plead. I only wish to put on record as useful in the future the nature of the change which the proceedings of the House of Commons is undergoing. It is not that the Government propose to take all this time; they have also materially altered the custom with regard to Supply. The discussion on Supply, particularly on the Civil Service Estimates, gave the House at large an opportunity of raising questions outside the Government programme of great importance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the fact that a larger number of days has been devoted to Supply in the first part of the Session than usual. That is perfectly true. Why? Hardly because the two great Votes have assumed exceptional importance, but principally because the Government have postponed Supply till a time when it cannot be properly discussed; and therefore we have to take the opportunity of raising matters on the Supplementary Votes. That is the reason why a discussion which used to take 5 or 6 days now takes 10 or 12. The practice of the Government is to put off Supply to a time when it is absolutely impossible to secure the proper attention of the House or to obtain a proper attendance of Members. This, coupled with the fact that the Government are taking the time of private Members, and because they are using the closure and the gag in a way that it has never been used before, alters the position of the Government to the House at large. In former times what was the position of the Government1? It was obliged to consult the minority. It was 56 not obliged to yield in important principles to the minority, but it was obliged to make important concessions. But now the Government is in a position to bring in a Bill and to carry it word for word and line by line without accepting a single Amendment; and this has made them more unreasonable and less willing to yield to the Opposition than any Government which has preceded them. I do not say—it is not my present purpose to argue—whether it is right or wrong; but this I do say that it is not in human nature to leave to one Government—I do not say this Government alone, but to any Government—the whole advantage of such changes as this, and to suppose that the other Party will not, in its turn, use the weapons of which advantage has already been taken by its predecessors. I warn private Members on this side of the House who intend to vote for this Motion that they will have no reason to complain hereafter of any similar proceedings, and that we shall be entitled to refer to their vote now as justifying those proceedings. I do not object to the proceedings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. From that point of view I have no reason for opposing the Motion which he has made. He asks for practically and substantially the whole time of the House for the rest of the Session. What use is he going to make of it? We all know he does not want it for non-contentious and non-Party measures. There are Bills which the Government have brought in—useful Bills which have been welcomed by both sides of the House, and which can be passed into law after small discussion, perhaps with Amendment, but without delay. It is not for them that this Motion is proposed; but it is, in the first place, to any Bills of the most contentious character, which are essentially Party Bills in this sense—that they could not be passed at all, even through this House of Commons, if the most stringent measures were not taken. It is, in the second place, to carry Bills by a very small majority—a majority smaller than has ever before carried Bills of this character. The time is required, in the hard place, to carry Bills through this House—if it can be done—which the Government themselves have declared have no chance of being carried into 57 law in the present Session. And, lastly, it is to carry Bills which the majority in the country do not approve and for which their sanction has not been asked. I do not feel inclined, as far as I have any power in the matter, to grant time which might be better employed in other business merely to discuss Bills which are not wanted and which are not intended to pass into law. But then, Sir, I have said that the policy of the Government is not approved in the country. That is an open secret. This Government is going on dealing in this arbitrary way in the House of Commons with the full knowledge in the mind of every man who sits on the Bench (the Treasury Bench) that they are in a minority in the country. [Loud cheers, and some cries of "Oh!"] Such a position would be intolerable to proud men. This is not a proud Government. They suffer humiliation after humiliation, and they show that they can accept it without exhibiting any of the ordinary feelings of humanity under such circumstances. Sir, I congratulate them. They have confidence in their slender and diminishing majority. They have, I daresay, confidence in themselves. But they have no confidence in the people of this country, to whom they must ultimately appeal. If they like to cling to Office without power, that is their affair. But as far as we are concerned I do not think it is our business to give them any assistance in this burlesque of Parliamentary procedure, or to aid them in their waste of time in dealing with Bills which are not wanted, and which are not intended to pass into law.
§ *MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
remarked that the tone of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing this Motion was coaxing and caressing, and even persuasive. He must say he preferred that style to the right hon. Gentleman's heroic tones, or to the rollicking tone which he adopted when he was dealing with such matters as agricultural distress or starving men. He desired to point out the great injury which this Motion would inflict on private Members on the right hon. Gentleman's own side. He was the advocate of private Members' time. Private Members should have the 58 first claim, and place-men the second. He believed that the legislation that would result from private Members' time would be much approved. Referring only to the matters now awaiting discussion on Tuesdays and Fridays, he believed that one hon. Member proposed to deal with the Liquor Traffic; another with the Mombasa Railway; a third, with Old Age Pensions; and a fourth, with the Occupation of Egypt. Discussion upon all these matters was to be stopped because the Chancellor of the Exchequer required their time for purposes which he would characterise later on. Last year the Government occupied 100 out of the 113 days upon which the House sat; and out of that number 53 were stolen Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Every year the House of Commons went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and every year it fell among—Ministers! who stripped it of its raiment, and wounded it and departed leaving it half dead. The Priests and the Levites, the Front Opposition Bench, always passed by on the other side, expecting, as they did, in their turn, similar assistance from the occupants of the Front Bench opposite; and it was left to the despised Samaritans of the Back Benches to take compassion upon private Members. A month ago, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked for extra time, a good deal was to be said in his favour, as financial considerations were then pressing. Even now, if the right hon. Gentleman asked for the extra time in order to devote it to finance he would not oppose the Motion, and would even give the right hon. Gentleman more than he now asked. The time usually devoted to the Estimates was much too short. Finance was not, however, the main object of the right hon. Gentleman on the present occasion. The main object was to devote it to measures. But what measures? The Prime Minister, speaking at Cardiff in January of the present year, referred to the duty of the Government in these words:—What we have to do is to lay before Parliament a list of measures which we think ought to, and should be, passed in the coming Session. To do more than this is to confuse public issues.59 And, speaking at Bradford, Lord Rosebery also said:—Some five years ago … at a great Liberal Conference in Scotland … I had to tell them that their Programme was a foolish one, because it omitted the one question which must take precedence of the realisation of all their projects, and that was a drastic dealing with the House of Lords.Did the Chancellor of the Exchequer propose to deal with the time now asked for by bringing in a drastic measure for dealing with the House of Lords? If not, he proposed to apply it to what Lord Rosebery had told him was "a foolish programme." Ministers had said that the House of Lords was an obstacle to legislation, and he could understand time being taken for the yet undisclosed but famous Resolution which was to remove that obstacle. But the House had heard of no such proposal. The Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to leave the obstacle where it was, and to take the time of private Members merely to continue running his head against the obstacle. He was not going to attack that great subject without which his own chief has told him that all his Programme was nonsense and foolishness. He could not understand such conduct. This taking of the time of private Members was but the beginning of the evil. Once the Government had all the time of the House they would have all the power of the House as well; and when the right hon. Gentleman had the time and the power he would put the gag upon them and would treat them as Parliamentary slaves. If the demand were made for such an object as the Premier foreshadowed he could understand it, but to make It merely for the purpose of occupying the time of the House in discussing measures which were not intended to pass, and never could pass, was both unreasonable and mischievous.
§ MR. E. J. C. MORTON (Devonport)
said, that several hon. Members had given their reasons why the Government should not take away the time of private Members. As a reply to them one ounce of fact was better than a ton of theory; and the fact in this case was, that on the very last day at the disposal of private Members, there was a countout. That was a test of the real feeling on the matter, for hon. Members on the 60 Opposition side would not go to that trouble even of keeping a House on the occasion. He should be willing to join in the effort to secure the rights of private Members if the time at their disposal was devoted to real Parliamentary work, but not if it was sought merely to afford amusement for hon. Members opposite.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, the circumstances, so far as he was concerned, were not of an ordinary character, and what he felt he had to consider was not so much the mere demand of the Government as the question what they proposed to do with the time of private Members when they got it. Now, inasmuch as the Government proposed to deal with a Bill in which the people of Ireland were profoundly interested—the Land Bill—he had to consider what might possibly be the effect of his refusing, by his vote, to give them the facilities they demanded. It appeared to him, in the circumstances, that he might as well vote against the Second Reading of that Bill as to refuse to grant the request the Government now made.
§ MR. HENRY LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, he felt a sort of melancholy amusement in listening to Debates of this kind, for on both sides the speeches were invariably a repetition of those that had many times preceded them on similar occasions. Whatever Government were in power, the Government of the day alleged both special and general reasons for taking the time of private Members, and the Opposition invariably denied that such reasons existed, or that they applied to that particular Session. After hearing the speech of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham he was curious to know how he would vote, notwithstanding the reasons he had urged against the demand of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman had admitted that he was not in favour of the rights of private Members. He seemed to regard himself as an official Member, whether he was in the Government or not; that only official Members should be listened to, and that all that private Members had to do was simply to come to the House and vote for or against the official views of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman, although he protested against the demand of the Government, had 61 pointed out, by way of warning, that it would be open to his own Party when they came into power in the next Parliament to adopt a similar course to press forward their own measures. He was not afraid of that, however. Conservative or Unionist Governments were not in favour of legislation. It devolved on the Radical Party to propose and press forward legislation. Conservative Governments, as a rule, were only too well pleased when they could make the excuse of Radical obstruction. The right hon. Gentleman objected to the demand of the Government because he said they used their time badly. Well, the Government would use it partly in pushing forward the Bill for the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church. The right hon. Gentleman voted in favour of the Second Reading of that Bill, and now he would refuse them the time to complete it. That course of action appeared to him to be something like hunting with the hare and running with the hounds. The right hon. Gentleman, it seemed, would be content to give the Government the time of the House if they would consent to bring in Bills that were not contentiöus—in other words Bills to which he was not himself opposed. But it was the duty of a Government to bring in contentious Bills, and to carry them by their Party majority if they could. The right hon. Gentleman had also talked about the country being on the side of the Opposition. He had often heard that sort of claptrap; it was commonly indulged in by both sides when in Opposition; he had resorted to it over and over again himself, and very little importance was to be attached to it. He agreed with an hon. Member opposite that the private Member was not well treated in the House; there was a disposition to crush him out. In past times private Members had far greater opportunities of taking part in the work of legislation than now. Moreover, they had the opportunity of raising important questions in Committee of Supply, but, as had been pointed out, Supply was now put off until the end of the Session, and even this opportunity also of bringing forward grievances was thus practically denied to them. But when the hon. Gentleman opposite came forward with an Amendment which 62 he called an expanded negative, whatever that might mean—he himself thought it meant bad language—and told the House that the Government ought not to take the time of the House until they had entirely altered the Standing Orders in order to secure to private Members their rights, the hon. Gentleman was talking nonsense. It appeared to him that the Government were responsible for the business of the House, and had a perfect right to say how it should be disposed of; they still gave Friday evenings to private Members, and it must be remembered that on Fridays they had a division of time. Really, it was very much the same thing whether they had the whole Friday or only the evening, and he had observed that there was more likely to be a count-out when they had the whole than when they had half of the Friday. It was true that there had been counts-out during the present Session, but that would always be the case until the Standing Order was altered, and the count-out only applied to the particular Resolution or Bill before the House—a change which he would be very glad to see take place. Looking at the difficulties that the Government had got into, and at their great anxiety to legislate on so very many matters, and the hopes that were eternal in their breasts, that they would be able to pass their measures, he was at least grateful for small mercies, and thanked the Government for having given them Friday evenings for the rest of the Session.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I do not agree very much with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down; but I do agree with him in this, that there are certain grievances, or alleged grievances, invariably trotted out upon these occasions and invariably supported by the same kind of arguments, whether on the Gladstonian or the Unionist side of the House. The hon. Gentleman has very frankly told us that he himself without conviction, but with immense reiteration, has employed the argument which has been used on the present occasion. I, for my own part, have great sympathy with the private Member: sympathy not going the whole length of some of the arguments used in his favour, but sympathy which I should always be glad to give practical expression to. 63 The Chancellor of the Exchequer has represented himself to us to-night in the position, I think, of a humble servant of the House—the humble servant of the majority of the House. Sir, I do not know a gentleman in this House to whom the epithet of humility is less obviously adequate; nevertheless, though I do not give him credit for having that Christian virtue in excess or out of balance or proportion with the other Christian virtues, I did believe that under ordinary circumstances he would be glad to give the private Members a legitimate opportunity of dealing with questions which interest them and, no doubt, their constituents; and the way in which, in my judgment, the Government can best satisfy the legitimate demands of private Members is, not so much by leaving them a large number of nights in the week in which a private Member's Motion has precedence over a Government Motion, as in giving them an opportunity of discussing questions in Supply. I think that point was taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Lynn Regis; he, by the way, was as humble as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and described himself as a despised Samaritan. The despised Samaritan has a real grievance, I think, if Supply be treated in the way the Government this Session apparently are determined to treat it. I make this admission to the House—the temptation is almost irresistible in modern days for a Government to defer the great mass and bulk of discussions in Supply to a time when Members are too hot and too tired to spend many hours over them. But I never knew a Government—I have not looked out dates and am trusting to memory—who deferred Supply as long as the Government have deferred it in the present Session. I do not believe we have entered on the Civil Service Estimates at all; is there any precedent or parallel for that? Doubtless the Chancellor of the Exchequer has looked out the dates; can he supply us with any case of a Government, meeting Parliament at the ordinary time, having no special crisis to deal with, having no special strain upon their resources, and absolutely deferring the beginning of the Civil Service Estimates until after a late Easter, and until they had entered upon 64 the month of May? I doubt if there is such a precedent; and even if there were a precedent, I question whether it ought to be followed. With regard to these private Members' nights, in the ordinary sense of the word, I cannot go the whole length that my hon. Friend does who moved the rejection of the Government proposal. I do not think the time spent on those evenings is always well spent. Certainly, when I look back upon the eccentricities of private Members' Resolutions in the present Session, and remember the way in which the three hours on Friday nights are spent, I do not know that I should greatly regret it if those three hours were curtailed by the Government. But as a matter of fact, the Government are so pleased at the way in which those Friday evenings are spent that they do not propose to take them. All I can say is, that if Friday evenings had meant more than a Debate and a Division, and had carried any consequences inside or outside the House, or had promoted the development of public opinion, or had had any legislative or administrative force, as the exertion of private Members during the course of this Session have been directed to passing Resolutions for paying themselves, for cutting up the United Kingdom into small fragments, and in favour of a second ballot—the total result of all these efforts would have been to leave but very small fragments of the British Constitution standing upright. The truth is, Sir, what is wanted is not so much an opportunity of ventilating private Members' crotchets as an opportunity of giving private Members a chance of criticising the administrative action of the Government, and the general course which the Government are pursuing. Those are the opportunities which the House on both sides has a right to demand, and it is those opportunities which the peculiar action of the Government with regard to Supply have deprived us of in the present Session. Well, Sir, it may, perhaps, be asked, if I take this view, a view not now expressed for the first time, with regard to what is ordinarily called private Members' privileges, why it is I mean to vote for my hon. Friend when he goes, as I doubt not he will go, to a Division in opposition to the Government's proposal. I base my vote upon words which occurred 65 at the end of my hon. Friend's Resolution—words not put by you, Mr. Speaker, because I understand you did not think the Amendment differed substantially from a direct negative, but which seemed to me to have a special bearing on the present occasion. My hon. Friend suggests that the special circumstances of this Session justify us in refusing the Government what many previous Governments have asked for, and not asked for in vain, and what, I think, under ordinary circumstances might, without any great breach of Parliamentary convenience, be granted to the Government responsible for the conduct of our business. The reason that I object to these privileges now is that I regard the whole of our proceedings during the present Session as not undertaken in a serious spirit, by serious politicians, or for any serious or legitimate object. The whole thing is an elaborate practical joke, and, though nobody likes a joke more than I do, I do not think that jokes should be unduly prolonged. The essence of that kind of wit, as of every kind of wit, is brevity, and brevity is the one thing which the Government sense of legislative humour does not appear to possess. I have no desire to weary the House, and I have no wish to go over ground we have traversed before with regard to the objects of the Government; but we have never received a satisfactory reply from the right lion. Gentlemen opposite; perhaps he is going to give us that satisfactory reply to-night. But in summary we all know what their policy is; it has been given a name that I suppose will stick to it—it is the policy of "filling up the cup." Well, Sir, there is something convivial about that, there is something jovial and cheerful about it; and for my own part I am perfect ready to treat it in that spirit, and I am perfectly ready to go through the labours of this Session with the utmost good humour, and without taking things more seriously than they ought to be taken, provided that the Government really are conducting the show for our amusement, and do not make the five acts of their comedy unduly tedious and prolonged. If we meet for business, then buckle on; let us sacrifice our private evenings, let us work the labouring oar with such energy as we possess; but when, after all, we are, by common agreement of all Parties 66 and all sides of the House, not meeting here for legislative work at all, I do really think that the Government should spare us the lash, that they should not drive us as slaves are driven, but should permit us to come down more or less at our ease to deal in a genial spirit with proposals which are not intended to come to any very great effect, but which are quite adequate to pass decently and respectably the time of an ordinary Parliamentary Session. That is my objection to the Government proposal. If we were brought here for work I should be ready to work, depend upon it: but we are not brought here to work—we are brought here to play. Well, then, let us play; do not let us go through all the external appearance of immense exertion for objects which are never to be attained, which the Government know are never to be attained, and which their followers know are never to be attained. I suppose that, beyond the object of passing our time respectably, the Government may have this further object in bringing their proposals forward—they may be anxious to inform an expectant country of the kind of policy which they are anxious to further, and (I do not wish to use the word in any offensive sense) to advertise their good intentions with a view to some electoral contest. But advertising is an expensive matter when it does not succeed, and those who spend much capital upon that undertaking, unless they choose their ground very successfully, may very likely ruin themselves in the proceeding. That is the Government's affair after all, not ours; and 1 have no objection whatever to their bringing forward any number of proposals and discussing them on Second Reading, and so giving themselves an opportunity of detailing their inestimable merits, and giving us an opportunity of showing what their effect would be. But, after all, this scheme could be carried out at far less cost of time and labour to the House than the Government propose to exact. As my right hon. Friend the Member for west Birmingham has pointed out, you cannot revolutionise the institutions of your country with a majority which has amounted sometimes to 30, and has gone down to 8, 10, and 11. [Cries of "One."] Yes, to one; but I do not follow the minute details of these statistics. The Government must 67 know that their existence depends upon Parliamentary accidents from day to day. If they think it worth while to keep in Office we are the last persons to blame them for so doing. But I venture to repeat that, with an uncertain and wavering majority, you cannot seriously maintain that you can revolutionise the institutions of the country. You cannot do it any more than you could conquer England with a stage army from Drury Lane. You may have brilliant reviews, you may have reconnaissances in force and all the display of legislation; but every Member of the Government knows, all the same, that you cannot carry your measures. No doubt every Minister who brings forward a Bill thinks that his is a measure which will effect a permanent amelioration in the condition of his fellow-subjects. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary may think that the best way to promote religion is to rob a religious institution. I do not question his sincerity on the point, but I do question his own belief that his excellent intentions can be given practical effect to. Then there is the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, who has introduced a Bill which contains some good and some bad things. My hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone, who is going to support the Government on this occasion will admit that if the Irish Land Bill is in danger it is because of the superfluous, controversial, and extraneous matter which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has introduced into that measure. Why has the right hon. Gentlemen introduced that matter? Did he do so with the object of facilitating the passing of the Bill? On the contrary, it will prevent its passing. It has been introduced with the object of affording an opportunity for a display of Parliamentary dialectics and of conveying the impression that the particular friend of the Irish farmer sits on that Bench. And so I might go through all the measures of the Government. My point is that the Government have brought forward a revolutionary Programme without having the force necessary to carry it into effect. In these circumstances it would be absurd, in my view, to give them the whole time of the House, which means quadrupling our labours. The object of the Government 68 could be most completely and satisfactorily met were they to content themselves with the amount of time which the Standing Orders of the House confer upon them.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 252; Noes, 230.—(Division List No. 50.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved: "That this House do immediately resolve itself into Committee of Supply."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he did not propose to oppose the Motion, but simply wished to take the opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman what were the views of the Government with regard to the course of Business generally, and in particular to-morrow?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that before the Division just taken he had not ventured to dispose of Tuesday. Having now become possessed of that day, he would state what he thought would be the best way of filling up the time. First of all, the President of the Local Government Board would ask leave to introduce a Bill with reference to Plural Voting. He proposed that afterwards they should go on with the Conciliation of Trades Disputes Bill, and, if there was no objection taken to that measure, with the Light Railways Bill and the Truck Act Amendment Bill. There was also a Fishery Act Amendment Bill. [Mr. BARTLEY: "All for Tuesday?"] Well, they would be put on the paper. It would depend upon how much time hon. Gentlemen thought it necessary to take on the earlier Bills whether all the Bills were taken. Thursday was fixed for the Budget, and on Friday morning they would take the Naval Works (Loan) Bill. To-night it was intended to take Navy Vote 8, on which the hon. Member for Ormskirk was anxious to raise a question with respect to boilers.
§ MR. ASQUITH
remarked that, in consequence of representations made to him by hon. Gentlemen particularly interested in the coal industry, and in order to give the House and the country full opportunity of considering the 69 details of the measure, it would not be taken for a week.
§ *MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES
said, that on Thursday the Leader of the House said he hoped the Naval Works Bill would be taken as the first Order to-day. When he heard that announcement he went away and prepared himself for naval works. But on Saturday, when the papers came into his hands, he found that the Naval Works Bill was to be disestablished, and to-night they were to go on with Vote 8. He did not possess that versatility of mind which enabled him to jump from high considerations of naval strategy to questions concerning the construction of naval boilers. It was very inconvenient this alteration in the course of business should be made, and he had not heard any reason why it should be made.
§ MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
asked whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would afford reasonable time for the discussion of Vote 8, or whether he intended to closure it to-night.
§ MR. G. T. KENYON (Denbigh District)
inquired if the right hon. Gentleman was able to definitely fix a day for the Committee Stage of the Welsh Disestablishment Bill.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the Welsh Church Bill would not be taken this week, and he could not say definitely when it would be taken. In reply to the hon. Member for Devonport he had to say that he did not contemplate applying the closure to the discussion on Vote 8: indeed, he could not charge himself with having, since he had had charge of the Business of the House, resorted to the closure more than he could possibly help.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said that Bill would not be taken to-night, but he would certainly place it in the first Order on Friday.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY
inquired when the ordinary Supply was to be taken. As yet this Session they had had no Supply.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
was afraid that at present he could not go beyond the statement with reference to Business he had just made.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
asked if the Chief Secretary for Ireland would intimate that the Vote for National Education in Ireland would not be taken without due notice to the Irish Members.
MR. JOHN MORLEY
said that that was so important a Vote he could certainly give the undertaking asked.
§ Motion agreed to.