*THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HAUCOURT, Derby) rose to move the following Motion standing in his name:—
That for the remainder of the Session Government Business have priority on Wednesday; that, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet on Friday at Three of the Clock. That Standing Order 11 be suspended, and the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the other days of the week.
He said,—The Motion of which I have given notice is identical in terms with that which I submitted to the House on the 31st of May of last year, and therefore I need say little with reference to the character of the proposals for which I ask the assent of the House. It has been said, I know, that public business is greatly in arrear, and in a state of unusual confusion. That has been said especially with reference to financial business. It is alleged that, under the management of the present Government Finance is more in arrear than it usually been in former times. I am here to deny that statement. It is the reverse of the fact. As regards the provision for the Ways and Means of the year, the
Budget Bill has been passed, and that is certainly not in arrear. The other day a question was asked about Supply, and it was said that this year Supply was extraordinarily in arrear. Well, if it has been in arrear, the responsibility for that cannot be laid upon the Government, at all events, for the Government have devoted more time and more days to Supply—I include, of course, Votes on Account; everybody knows that the items of the Estimates are discussed as much on Votes on Account as they are in Supply—than in some recent years. Now, I am not at all saying the condition of Supply is satisfactory; but what I will say is, that it is not less satisfactory than it has been at former periods. I have examined the number of days which have been devoted to Supply in the last three years for which we are responsible, and in the preceding three years for which we were not responsible. For the last three years up to the end of May the figures have been given me as follows:—In 1893, 23 days; 1894, 13 days; and in 1895, 16 days. If you compare that with the previous three years, you will find that in 1890 there were 15 days devoted to Supply; in 1891, 16 days; and in 1892, 19 days. I only say that in vindication of the mariner in which business has been conducted with reference to finance. As I have said, I am not at all prepared to maintain that this is a satisfactory system of dealing with financial business. I have always thought and believed that there ought to be some more regular system in the House of Commons for dealing with the Estimates. It is not so much a question with regard to the detail of the Estimates, which everybody knows can be very little operated upon practically by the House. It is not upon a petty vote on some park in London that the House can most usefully occupy itself, but it has been stated—and I entirely agree with the statement—that the Estimates are the opportunity in which the House has the right, the power, and the duty to criticise the conduct of the Executive Government in all its departments. It is for that purpose I have always thought there ought to be a regular system by which a certain time should be appropriated to the Estimates from that point of view. I mentioned the other day, in
answer to the right hon. Gentleman, that it was part of the intention of the Government, in the proposals we have to make, that there should be a day—I do not bind myself as to a particular day, as it may be necessary from time to time to vary it, but we will call it at present Friday—set apart for the Estimates. I hope that arrangement will commend itself to the House as an improvement. Then, with reference to the rest of the time of the House, we ask in the Motion I have put on the Paper that it should be devoted to the consideration of measures which the Government have laid on the Table of the House. Now, with those measures it is our desire and intention to proceed. As our Parliamentary system is now conducted—and I think a system which has so long prevailed is not likely to be altered—the legislative business of the year must mainly depend upon the Government of the day, who for the time represent the majority of the House of Commons. Government measures must constitute the main legislative business of the Session. It is sometimes said that a distinction should be made between contentious and non-contentious measures. For some purpose no doubt that is true, but I do not expect that anybody will contend that the main and most important measures of any Government ought to be non-contentious measures. As long as Party Government exists in this country, as long as the two opposing Parties with principles more or less antagonistic exist, it is of the essence of Party Government that the great measures produced by either Party should be criticised and opposed—more often than not, strongly opposed—by the Party on the other side, whose principles are opposed to those of the Party which for the time being is in the majority and in power. Therefore, it is of the essence of Party Government, which is the basis and foundation of our Parliamentary Government, that the main measures of a Government should be contentious measures, and it is the duty of the Government, and I feel sure it will be the pleasure of the House, that adequate time should be given for the discussion of such measures. Of course, the Party opposed to those measures will criticise and resist them, but, if Parliamentary Government is to go on, there must be
an adequate and proper time appropriated to the discussion of those measures—a time, I would venture to say, which will be consistent with due discussion of the measures and yet such as will secure their passing into law; otherwise, if any other system were to be adopted—if it were to be allowed that in all contentious measures the minority should take a course which would prevent the possibility of the measures passing—that would transfer the right of legislation from the majority to the minority of the House, which is opposed to the principles of Government by Party. There is nothing in the proposal of the Government which is inconsistent with these principles, and certainly nothing which is inconsistent with full and fair discussion of the measures proposed by the Government. I cannot charge myself, and I do not think I shall be charged by my opponents, in so far as I have had any responsibility for the conduct of the business of this House, with attempting to strifle or restrict the fair discussion of Government measures. I have certainly not regarded that as a thing which was to be desired or that was consistent with the character and the credit of the House of Commons, and I have always considered that the person who, however unworthily, occupies the position in which I am placed ought to make his first and paramount consideration what is good for the permanent credit of the House of Commons. Measures may fail and Administrations pass away, but the House of Commons remains, and I believe the primary duty of any man who stands in the position of Leader of the House of Commons is to conduct the business in a manner which will redound to its permanent reputation. That interest, I believe, is best consulted when the liberty of discussion is fairly used and not abused. That is to me the test which I think we ought to take in judging of these matters. I have assumed, and I always shall assume, that there is in every part of this House, without distinction of Party, an honest desire to deal fairly by the business of the country and with the measures which it is the duty of the Government of the day to place before the House of Commons for its consideration, however much some Party in the House may be opposed to
those measures. On no other assumption is it possible that the business of this House can be properly conducted with a due regard to the rights of the minority and, at the same time, to the ultimate prevalence, which must be provided for, of the will of the majority. It is my belief that the measures which the Government have submitted to the consideration of the House of Commons, and which they are prepared to proceed with, are measures which may with fair discussion be disposed of by the House during the course of the present Session. I know that those views may be regarded as too sanguine. I know I may be treated as Utopian in my hopes and expectations. I was told so this time last year. I was then exhorted to resort to violent methods for the purpose of passing what was, no doubt, a highly contentious Budget. I did not accept that advice, and my hopes and expectations were not deceived. I proceed upon the assumption—I believe it is a just and well-founded assumption—that the House of Commons will be prepared to deal fairly with the measures which we have laid before them, and it is because I believe that the legislative business brought forward by the Government may be fairly disposed of with adequate discussion during the present Session that I ask the House to accept this Motion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
The House will, I think, agree with me that we have nothing to complain of in the tone of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I will go further and say that, so far as the terms of the Motion he has brought forward are concerned, I think they are in accordance with the practice of this House that about this period of the Session privileges should be given to the Government of the day with regard to the time of the House not in excess of what he has asked for. On the substance of the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, I have little or nothing to say or complain of. He has, however, naturally enough, taken this occasion for making a survey of the past work of the Session, and forming some forecast as to its future. I am bound to say that, both as regards the present and as regards the future, the right hon. Gentleman appears to me to be animated with an extremely sanguine spirit. It is a spirit which I 1067 have known before exhibited by Gentlemen in charge of Bills, which I myself have, perhaps, felt with regard to Bills I have been responsible for, but which the progress of events has not in the past, and, I think, will not in the future, always justify. It is the business of Governments to be sanguine about their business; and so far as I have had experience in these matters, either as a Member of the Government or of the Opposition, I have seldom found their sanguine forecasts have altogether met with the success which perhaps they have deserved. The right hon. Gentleman has dealt briefly with the condition of Supply, and has compared the number of days given to Supply in this Session with the number given in former Sessions. I have not had time to examine or check the figures of the right hon. Gentleman, but I have no doubt they are quite correct. I notice the right hon. Gentleman, in discussing the time given to Supply, mixed up together with that the time given to Votes on Account and to Supplementary Estimates, and that he did not make any comparison of the amount of time given up to this period in June to the discussion devoted to the Ordinary Civil Service Estimates with the time given on previous occasions. Had he given us that material for comparison, I cannot help thinking it would be found that in no normal Session of recent years had the discussion of the Ordinary Civil Service Estimates been so long delayed or such small progress made with them. However, I think the plan adumbrated by the Government of giving one day in the week to Supply for the remainder of the Session is a good plan, and is one which will meet with the legitimate needs of private Members, and will, in my judgment, more than supply the place of privileges which this Resolution takes away. I think now, as I have always thought, that private Members find better scope for their powers of criticism upon Supply than they can possibly have either on Friday or Tuesday evenings, and, I might possibly add, even on the Wednesday, for there is no part of the Government Resolution which I look upon with more satisfaction, taken as a whole, than the fact that it puts an end to some of those Wednesday proceedings. When I look 1068 back over the course of the Wednesdays of the present Session I see not very much to be very grateful for and a great deal which I have great reason to regret. I turn now to the observations which the right hon. Gentleman has made with regard to the great Government measures now before the House. He has told us, in language which, I think, will find an echo in the heart of every man who loves the House of Commons, that he regards with extreme regret, and he would avoid by almost every means in his power, any operations which might stifle debate. He has appealed to his own past career as proof that the principles which he has expressed to us have been put by him into practice. If I were in a controversial mood, I think there are instances in recent Sessions which I might call up to the memory of the House, which would, perhaps, not altogether bear out the reminiscences of the right hon. Gentleman, and especially when I remember last year, the first, think, in which the right hon. Gentleman had been the Leader of the House and had the guidance of our proceedings. I remember, while he gave us ample opportunity for discussing the important proposals he brought before us in the Budget, what happened immediately after that, and when I recall to mind the incidents connected with the Evicted Tenants Bill, unless I am greatly mistaken, the same phrase cannot be bestowed upon the course the Government took upon that occasion. I do not wish to revive forgotten controversies, and I will only say that I entirely subscribe to and associate myself with the views which the right hon. Gentleman laid down as those most consistent with the honour, with the dignity, and with the usefulness of this House. The right hon. Gentleman has said, and quite truly, that if unfettered Debate is to go on in this House it must be by the co-operation of the minority with the majority. I quite admit that if the minority have rights the majority have rights too, and it is impossible for either parties to press those rights to excess without its being absolutely necessary to resort to those measures which, I am glad to think, by common agreement on both sides of the House we desire most of all to avoid. That general proposition being laid down, the difficulty comes in the 1069 application. What are the rights of the minority and of the majority, and in what consists an abuse of those rights by one Party or an abuse of them by the other? I admit, of course, that it is easy for the minority to carry to excess the powers of discussion which the ordinary rules of this House allow. I admit it would not be difficult to find examples in the past where that power has been exercised and abused in the minority; but, as I have said, I do not wish to recall such instances. But if the minority thus have abused and may abuse the right of discussion properly given by the rules of this House, let it be noted that the majority on their side must not press their rights too far. They must not overload the Paper; they must not swell their programme with measures in their nature so difficult and controversial that any minority which attempted to carry out its duties would be obliged to discuss them at considerable length and with fulness. And when I reflect upon the bill of fare which the Government have prepared for us I cannot help thinking that they have, unwittingly and unintentionally perhaps, set before themselves a task which neither they nor the House can possibly perform. The Welsh Bill has reached the middle of the 5th Clause. It consists of 31 clauses, and we are now at the 13th of June. After the Welsh Bill there is the Irish Land Bill, some of which is of an extremely controversial character and must be bitterly contested across the Floor of the House. Then there is the Local Veto Bill—a Bill which may have great merits, but which certainly has not the merit of allaying gentlemen of all Parties and shades of opinion in its support. And when these three great measures have been passed, we have still the Crofters' Bill, some parts of which must necessarily lead, I will not say to a protracted, but to some, controversy in this House. In addition to all these Bills—and possibly there are others—there is the whole work of Supply.
§ MR. BALFOUR
Yes, I forgot the Plural Voting Bill; and there is another measure which the Government can hardly hope to get through the Report Stage without discussion; I refer to the 1070 Factories Bill of the Home Secretary. I do not wish to map out the time which those Bill ought to take; but I do submit to the House that it is absolutely impossible, so far as my experience of House of Commons work goes, that this vast mass of legislation can be carried through without throwing on the Members of the House a burden which it is impossible that they can bear, or at least without unduly curtailing Debate, and bringing on the House that disgrace which the right hon. Gentleman very justly desires to avoid. I do not press the matter further now. I only respectfully remind the majority that if they have rights, as I am far from contesting, they also have duties, and that one of their duties is not so to overstrain the amount of work they desire the House to perform as to put them in the dilemma either of having a continuous sitting to the utter destruction of the health and efficiency of the Members of this House, or else of unduly curtailing Debate by violent means, which all Members of all Parties sincerely desire to avoid. With that respectful warning as regards the future, I beg to say that, so far as I am concerned, I see no reason why we should not give the Government the privileges, as regards the time of the House, asked for by the right hon. Gentleman in the Resolution which you, Sir, have read from the Chair.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
said, he most cordially and heartily supported the right hon. Gentlemen who had just spoken in their desire to preserve, in whatever might be done, the honour and dignity of the House. Private Members were as jealous of the honour and dignity of the House as either the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench or the right hon. Gentlemen on the front Opposition Bench. He found, after a careful investigation in the Library, that the Government had already had 61 days of the present Session for their business, and he did not think that for that vast amount of time a proportionate; amount of work had been done. As to the time given to private Members, there had been, since the beginning of the Session, 17 Wednesdays, on 15 of which private Members had had the opportunity of discussing private Bills. At the beginning of the Session private Members 1071 ballotted for places for their Bills, and there was a Standing Order that Bills which had passed their Second Reading should have precedence over other Bills. But it would be far more satisfactory if the Government of the day, instead of taking away the time of private Members by motions of this sort, were to say distinctly at the opening of the Session that they would appropriate all the time of the House. He could not help feeling that the time of the House might as well be devoted to the Bills brought in by private Members as to the Bills of the Government, for there was an absolute unreality in the whole proceedings of the Government. The Home Secretary had told his constituents in Scotland, and he was now carrying out his word, that Parliament was to "plough the sands of the seashore," and it had also been said that Parliament was to be kept sitting to "fill up the cup," but that cup seemed to take a long time to fill. He did not think there ever was a Session, since he had the honour of having a seat in the House, in which there was such a multiplicity of Bills read a first time and then dropped. There were no less than 25 Bills of the Government on the Paper, and eight of the nine of them were of a very highly contentious character. The Government had brought in those measures without any earthly hope of passing them, but merely with the desire of pleasing various sections of their supporters. The right hon. Gentleman had said that financial business was in some arrear. That was not the fault of private Members. He ventured to say that the Estimates had not been discussed by private Members in this Parliament at anything like the length at which they were discussed in past Parliaments. He noticed that there was a great tendency to take away the rights of private Members, and to exalt the powers and privileges of Members who sat on both front Benches. Against that tendency the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton strongly protested when just such another Motion was made by a Conservative Government in the Session of 1892, and he therefore hoped that if there was a Division they would have the support of the hon. Member. If the Government had proceeded from the commencement of the Session in a 1072 businesslike way—if they had curtailed the discussion on the Address, for instance—this Motion would have been unnecessary. He did not think Friday evenings had been used as well as, perhaps, some Members on his side of the House approved of, but there were three useful Motions down for the next three Fridays—Motions in respect to old-age pensions, procedure of the House, and the taking of a religious census in Wales. He could not find any opportunity for bringing the latter Motion forward. If he put it down as an Instruction it was ruled out of order, and if he won a good place in the ballot the Chancellor of the Exchequer took away his opportunity. He trusted that in some future Session the Leader of the House would be able to give hon. Members who were non-official their rights in regard to the time of the House.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to except from his Motion the Rating of Machinery Bill. This Bill had passed the House of Commons by large majorities in five or six successive Sessions; it had been regarded by successive Governments with something more than benevolent neutrality; and, if he was not mistaken, on more than one occasion hopes had been held out by the Government that special facilities would be given for advancing the Bill. In the present Session he was fortunate enough to get the third position in the ballot. The Bill again passed the House of Commons by a very substantial majority; it was referred to Grand Committee, and it passed through that Committee without amendment. It now stood first on the Paper for next Wednesday, and was the only private Member's Bill which stood for Third Reading Now, when, after years of endeavour, they had managed to get the Bill this favourable position, and when their hopes were in course of fruition, the right hon. Gentleman came with his fateful shears, and was prepared to snip the thread of its life. His impression was that very few, if any, precedents could be found for taking the whole time of the House before the second Wednesday after Whitsuntide. He admitted that the majority of private Members' Bills which were brought forward on Wednesdays dealt with subjects which, if they were to be 1073 dealt with at all, should be dealt with by the responsible Government of the day. That statement, however, did not apply to Bills of every kind; it did not apply to measures like the Rating of Machinery Bill, which, though they divided opinion, did not divide it upon Party lines. Such a Bill as the one of which he had charge could only be introduced by a private Member. He strongly appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make an exception in favour of the Bill of which he had spoken.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I am sorry to say that I cannot give any support to the appeal which has just been made by my hon. Friend opposite. Assuming that the Government are entitled to make this demand on the time of the House, they are, in my opinion, justified in refusing to make any exception, for if they once begin to make exceptions they will find they will have demands made upon them from all quarters of the House, and it would be invidious to refuse any. And I am bound to say that if there is one Bill more than another with reference to which I would not make an exception, it is the Bill which is patronised by my hon. Friend. That is not only on account of the character of that Bill, which I myself oppose, but it is also and especially because of the method in which that Bill has been brought to its present stage. We have exactly the same charge to bring against the Bill as we had to bring against the Bill we were discussing yesterday. I do think we ought to refuse support to any Bill which has been passed through the Grand Committee without Amendment, and by which means this House has been deprived of the opportunity of considering its details. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the time has come at which there is full justification for the course taken by the Government, and I am quite prepared to support the Motion. But we might have a little more information from the Government. I think the position is a very singular one, and that we are establishing a new precedent in regard to the taking of time. Hitherto it has been customary at this period of the Session, when the Government has asked for additional facilities, for the Government to make some statement as to the 1074 Bills or measures which it is prepared to withdraw from the consideration of the House. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER shook his head in dissent.] I think I am right in saving that in the time of the late Government there was no demand of this character made without at the same time a statement being made as to the course of business. It is extremely inconvenient to the House that we should go on as we are going on at present. I trust the Government will tell us in no vague terms whether or not they hope to carry forward their measures and intend to sit until they have carried them. The hon. Gentleman opposite said the Government had 25 Bills on the Paper. He makes a mistake; they have 36. There are 36 Bills, each one of which the Government thinks of sufficient importance to attach the name of one of themselves to it. Of those 36 Bills I believe there are only eight that have reached the Second Reading. Therefore there are at the present time 28 Government Bills, including Bills which come down from the House of Lords, which have not even reached the stage of Second Reading. Well, surely it is undesirable that the House should be face to face with this mass of business unless there is a most determined intention on the part of the Government to proceed with the whole of it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us on information whatever to show upon what the Government base their hopes of dealing with this mass of legislation. He said he expected moderation from his opponents—moderation on the part of the minority as well as on the part of the majority. We all agree that is a demand which he may fairly make upon us, but we have a right to ask him in reference to this mass of business, what treatment on the part of the Opposition he would consider moderate. How are we to divide the time of the Session so as by any possibility to give a practical chance to the great majority of these 36 Bills, 28 of which have not yet passed the Second Reading? The Chief Secretary for Ireland, I suppose speaking with authority, ventured upon a confident prediction at a meeting of his constituents the other day with regard to the business of the House. It was a very important and definite statement. It was that the Welsh Bill and 1075 the Irish Land Bill would both be passed through the House of Commons by the beginning of the last week in July. Well, now, we are not going to deal with either of those Bills until next week, and I have made a rough calculation from which it appears to me there will be about 25 days—that is five weeks of five days each, including Wednesdays and Fridays, at the disposal of the Government. Of those 25 days five must be given, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised us, to the consideration of Supply. That leaves 20 days, from which he must make some deductions for contingencies. There may be, for instance, Motions for Adjournment or something of that kind. You have to carry the Irish Land Bill through three stages—the whole of the Committee stage, the whole of the Report stage, and the Third Reading stage. You have to carry the Welsh Church Bill through the greater part of the Committee stage, the whole of the Report stage, and the Third Reading stage. I ask how can the Chancellor of the Exchequer expect to get through these two measures alone, without reference to anything else, by the time named by the Chief Secretary for Ireland? We ought to have some idea of what is in the minds of the Government as to what they think at the present time would be a fair amount of time to give to the discussion of these and other principal measures. If it is the general opinion that the demand which the Government make is moderate and reasonable, we may hope to deal with so much business as is agreed upon. But the point which I wish to press is that it would be absolutely impossible with any fair discussion, even if you could carry these two great Bills through in the time named, that you should deal with any of the other 34 Bills on the Paper. Then why this hypocritical pretence of going on with Bills which the Government in their hearts have discarded long ago? It is assuming that the supporters of the Government in this House, and in the constituencies, are very foolish indeed if it is supposed that they are really taken in by such a pretence of legislation as merely the Bills on the Paper when there is not the slightest chance of dealing with them. I have said enough to show that the situation 1076 is really exceptional; and while we may willingly grant the facilities for which they now ask, we may ask in return that they should give us to-day, or at an early date, some indication of the Bills which they think the House may be able to dispose of.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The hon. Member for Leeds has been answered to a large extent by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, though I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's views at all. Unfortunately, it is inherent to motions of this kind that they should interfere with the progress of more than one highly meritorious Bill which the Government would gladly see passed into law.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It cannot be in a unique position, because the right hon. Member for West Birmingham says that it is a double of the Bill of yesterday, having passed through the Standing Committee without amendment. The real truth is, as the right hon. Member for West Birmingham has said, it is impossible for the Government to enter upon the question of exemption. It would be a most invidious task to decide between one Bill and another; and I had a sufficient experience last year of holding out hopes of the passing of a particular Bill to make me extremely cautious about holding out such hopes again. Of course, that is a course which the Government could not take. But there are accidents in human affairs which might give the hon. Member's Bill a chance, and there might come a time when the Third Reading might be taken. As to that I cannot offer an opinion; but, if such an opportunity should occur, the hon. Member will find me a supporter of his Bill. With reference to what the right hon. Member for West Birmingham has said, I would remind him that the time has not yet come as to making a classification of the Bills. When I made this Motion last year, on May 31, the Leader of the Opposition said:—I do not expect the Government as early as May 31 to go through the painful operation of the slaughter of the innocents.1077 I do not know why that particular phrase is applied to this process of dealing with Government Bills, because the Opposition do not regard them as "innocents" at all. It is not on that ground that they desire their slaughter. There was a heathen deity who was in the habit of devouring his children, and who would, I think, offer a more natural image to apply to this case. But last year, when I was called upon to specify the measures with which the Government intended to go on, it was on July 18, and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham then went through an elaborate arithmetical calculation by which he demonstrated that it was impossible that those Bills should pass. But, as a matter of fact, they did pass.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I did demonstrate to my own satisfaction that it was impossible for them to pass with fair discussion. They did not have fair discussion.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
That they did not have fair discussion was partly due to the absence of the right hon. Gentleman. They were not Bills of a highly-contentious character. But I am afraid that if we come to political arithmetic the right hon. Gentleman and I should not entirely agree. At all events, I cannot undertake at the present time to answer his appeal by giving a certain number of days for each particular Bill. The time for that has not come yet. But in answer to one question addressed to me I can say that it is the intention of the Government, at all events with reference to the great and principal Bills which have already been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to go on with them with the intention of passing them into law during the present Session. If the time be short, then the Session will be short; if the time be long, then the Session will be long. I have no desire to close discussion, but at the same time I have a strong desire, and on the part of the Government I wish to express their determination, to proceed with those measures until they have passed through this House.
THE MARQUESS OF CARMARTHEN (Brixton)
said, that he also had a Bill for which he should have liked to invite the tender mercies of the Chancellor of 1078 the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman had asked him not to make an appeal for invidious distinctions; but if he did not, it was not because he did not think this Bill was of far greater importance than the Rating of Machinery Bill. This Motion was brought forward at absolutely the wrong time. It ought to have been made four months ago or six weeks hence. He did not stop to argue whether the rights of private men were good or bad; but at this point of their legislation to interrupt them with such a Motion was to make the opportunities of legislation a farce and a sham. If their rights were bad, then they had wasted 14 Wednesdays since the Session opened. First, much time was spent in balloting for places and bringing in Bills; and in 12 Wednesdays, with five hours each, 14 Bills had been discussed. Of those 13 had passed a Second Reading; six had been referred to the Standing Committees; one to a Select Committee, and one had been read a second time. Several of the Bills had been passed by the Standing Committees, and a great deal had been said lately about the Standing Committees being brought into contempt and their work being rendered useless. No better way of doing that could be found than calling Members to discuss Bills which they knew had no conceivable chance of becoming law. Many of the Members of the Standing Committees complained of the strain which the work imposed upon them; and if this Motion were to become annual, it would be found that Members would not attend the Standing Committees to consider Bills which could not possibly become law. This Motion went very much further than the right hon. Gentlemen on both Front Benches seemed to think. The occasion was one on which the two Benches conspired to sit upon private Members, and the Motion burked one of the Standing Orders of the House. Order No. 12 said that after Whitsuntide public Bills other than Government Bills should have precedence according to the stage which they had reached. What was the use of that Order if the Government took away the only day on which it could come into force? If this Motion were to be made every Session, the sooner that Standing Order was repealed the better. It was perfectly obvious from this Motion that 1079 the Government thought that private Members' legislation was bad; and on that ground he had another cause of complaint. The Motion did not go far enough. This Session 400 Bills had been introduced. Night after night batches of them appeared on the Paper, and the titles were read out, occupying from ten minutes to three-quarters of an hour. That necessitated certain hon. Members sitting on night after night for no other reason than to prevent pernicious Bills becoming law. If the Government were opposed to private Members passing their Bills, they should save them the trouble of going through this dreary list night after night. If the Government's Motion were carried, he should propose as an addition:—That after all Government business has been disposed of, Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair without question put.That would not meet with the approval of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but they could not eat their cake and have it also. If they were determined, for the sake of these valuable Government measures, to give up the whole time of the House, and take away the few rights remaining to private Members, they must pay the penalty. They must expect henceforth very little mercy, and no sympathy for their Bills from those who were opposed to this Motion.
§ MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)
said, he was very glad that some hon. Members, on the Opposition side of the House at least, had stood up for the rights of private Members. But he hoped that his hon. Friend the Member for West St. Pancras would not press his Motion to a Division. He thought that on this occasion there were special reasons why the Opposition should not oppose the Motion of the Government. The Session was somewhat far advanced, and some Members of the Opposition, for good reasons, desired to be outside the House. That, however, was only a minor reason; but he thought that the private Opposition Members had on this occasion been deserted by their leaders. The front Opposition Bench had been "squared" by the Government. They were aware, from the speeches which had been delivered, that the Government programme was in an 1080 unexampled state of confusion, and it appeared to him that the Opposition ought to divest themselves of all responsibility for the remainder of the Session with regard to the time of the House. He looked upon this as an unprecedented occasion, because all hon. Members were anxious to hasten the time when they would have the opportunity to consult the views of their constituents on the Government's programme. In these circumstances it seemed to him that it would be the more straightforward course to give the Government ample time for the remainder of the Session, in order to show the country what their programme was really worth. For that reason he would not oppose the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ *MR. J. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Nottingham, Mansfield)
said, he had no intention of contesting the claim of the Government to a larger share of the time of the House. He thought, however, that an exception might have been made in favour of the Wednesday Sittings, because that day was in a different category from the other days of the Parliamentary week. Wednesday was the only day in the week on which it was possible for a private Member to submit a Bill for the consideration of the House. He had, however, heard with satisfaction, and the Liberal Party throughout the country would learn with satisfaction, that it was the intention of the Government to persist in their efforts to carry out the whole of their Sessional programme before the House rose. He trusted that the Government would, when the proper time arrived, come to the conclusion that it would be their duty to sit later in the year in order to complete the work which could not be undertaken during the Sittings of the present period, because he should like to see certain measures which had reached an advanced position obtain a chance during a later period of the year to pass into law—a chance which was now denied them. There was one measure in which he was greatly interested—namely, the Burial Acts (Amendment) Bill. He reminded the Government that pledges had been given with reference to this subject over and again. Fifteen years ago a Liberal Government promised that at no distant day the whole question of the Burial Laws 1081 should be dealt with; and in February, 1893, the Home Secretary promised that if a private Member dealt with the question, the Government would do their utmost to facilitate the passage of the measure. That work had now been undertaken by a private Member, and he warned the Government that, in consequence of the creation of Parish Councils, trouble might be in store for them unless something was done to pass a measure dealing with a reform of the Burial Laws.
§ *MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was really entitled to some acknowledgment for the courtesy and dignity with which he had treated this question. His speech, indeed, amounted to a rebuke, proper and necessary, of those among the right hon. Gentleman's followers who were always clamouring that he should go into the Torture Chamber and bring out his thumbscrews and apply them to the Members of the Opposition. He took note of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had expressed confidence in the House, and that reasonable opportunities would be afforded for discussion. He also took it for granted that, the right hon. Gentleman having "set his bow in the cloud," there would be no Autumn Session. As to the Amendment, however, he thought that if there was one day of the week which ought to be appropriated, the most criminal day of the week was Wednesday. Perhaps it might be thought that this was his view because he had not succeeded in the Wednesday ballot. He might remark that he had never tried. He was glad to find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had appropriated one day in the week to the interests of Supply. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman had chosen Friday possessed many advantages. It would enable those Members who did not take any interest in the financial affairs of the country to take an extra day's holiday in addition to the following Saturday, and it would have the additional advantage of leaving in the House only those Members who took an interest in the financial affairs of the country; and thus he looked forward to many a happy symposium. But private Members had always their Habeas Corpus Act suspended at this time of the year. The daughters of the 1082 horse leech were not in it with the Leader of the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer not only cried "Give, give!" but he had the power of enforcing his demands, because when once the Government had taken all the time of the House they had in fact taken all the power of the House; they could prevent any Member from doing anything, and they could do anything they chose themselves. He would point out, however, one reason which rendered it necessary for the time of the House to be absorbed at this moment. It was because they had not used the time hitherto at their disposal wisely or well. Take for example the flagrant instance of the Seal Fishery Bill. That was an important Bill; but the Government had introduced it so late as only to leave Parliament 20 days for passing it. The result would be that, having allowed this short period of time for the consideration of the Bill, the Government would in all probability appeal again to the House, on the ground of lack of time, that hon. Members should forbear to use their opportunities for a proper discussion of the measure. If, therefore, the whole time of the House was now to be taken, some of it must be given to the consideration of that Bill. The Leader of the Opposition did not mention one most important piece of Government business which they had to deal with. It was the Resolution against the House of Lords. The Prime Minister told the country at Bradford that until the question of the House of Lords was got rid of no legislation could be passed by the Liberal Party in the House of Commons; that the House of Lords was an obstacle in the way of every step which the Government took in the direction of legislation. Lord Rosebery went further, and said there were two acts in the course which had to be taken by the Government. The first was the Resolution against the House of Lords; the second was the appeal to the country to support that Resolution. Were they going to have the second act before the first, or were they to have a third act embodying the tragical end of the Government before the second or the first act, or was it that the predominant partner in the Cabinet had overridden the sleeping partner in another place, and that the two-act tragedy of 1083 "Resolution" was to be supplanted entirely by the farce of "the Sands of Dee"? He trusted that both for Bills and for the Resolution the House would have proper and adequate opportunity for discussion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had very handsomely acknowledged that there had been no obstruction, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman was justified in asking for the time of the House, of which he hoped he would make good use.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)
said, it was not often that he had an opportunity of voting with Her Majesty's Government, but he would have that honour to night, because their Motion would have the effect of choking off one of the most mischievous Bills ever brought before the House. He alluded to the Rating of Machinery Bill. The hon. Member for Leeds had said that that Bill had received the sanction of five or six Parliaments, but those who were interested in argiculture thought it had gone far enough. The Bill in question simply sought to relieve the manufacturers of taxation and to place it on the agricultural interest. He hoped that agricultural Members would remember that the Government had in a left-handed fashion endeavoured to support them by the course they had taken and would give them their support now.
§ MR. E. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
hoped that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer might see his way at some early period to give the House some further information. The right hon. Gentleman had already stated that the Government intended to pass all their principal measures. It was perfectly clear that they could not pass the secondary measures, which they were now sending to the Grand Committees and Select Committees. It was all very well to call upon Members to serve on these Committees in the early part of the Session, but it was asking too much to call upon them to come down to the House day after day for five days in the week, when Government Bills were being discussed, and, at the same time, to serve on Select and Grand Committees. He really thought that the right hon. Gentleman might consider this point—namely, whether he could not relieve hon. Members from the necessity of serving on Committees.
§ MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)
ventured to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he would have some regard to the pledge he gave more than three months ago, that he would take the Army Estimates at an early date, seeing that, in consideration of that pledge, he obtained a large Vote in two and a-half minutes. He hoped the House might ask for some tardy observance of that pledge.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I will consider that. I hope I may get many more Votes in two and a-half minutes.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he understood that the Welsh Bill would go on during the whole of each week except on the day in which Supply was put down. He wished to ask what the next Bill would be, the Irish Land Bill or the Local Veto Bill?
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
asked whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer had any time-table in his mind which would enable him to indicate the probable time when the Irish Land Bill would get into Committee?
§ MR. WINGFIELD-DIGBY (Dorset, N.)
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would allow his Motion not to take effect until next week. The result of its taking effect now would be to closure a discussion on agriculture which was down for to-morrow. It was desired to ascertain whether the Government could see their way to apply the increasing profits of the Post Office to the establishment of an agricultural parcels post, for the purpose of conveying produce quickly and cheaply to the consumer.
§ MR. R. W. HANBURY (Preston)
asked what Supply would be taken tomorrow. He also wished to ask, with reference to a question he had upon the Paper, whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not seriously take into consideration some means of making the discussions in Supply a little more effective. Under the present system the same Votes were discussed year after year, 1085 with the result that a good many important Votes received no consideration at all. If the right hon. Gentleman, instead of taking regularly the first class as the first subject for discussion, would vary the order, and begin with some of the more important Estimates, such as the Education Vote, it would be a great improvement.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he entirely sympathised with what had been said by the hon. Gentleman. At present they had the same petty questions raised first on the Vote on Account, which, in his opinion, ought to be devoted to major political questions, repeated when they came to the Estimates themselves, and he thought the time might be much more usefully employed. He would consider the matter with a view to carrying out, as far as he could, the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman. Meanwhile, he understood that it would not be convenient to bring on the Army Estimates to-morrow, so he would put down the Civil Service Estimates; but, in the absence of any other arrangements, they must begin with Class 1. In the future arrangements of Supply he would feel very desirous of acting on the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. With reference to the appeal of the hon. Member for Dorset as to the Motion upon Agriculture, he must point out that he had said that even those in the most beneficial position could not be excepted, and the hon. Gentleman did not stand even in a foremost position, for his was not the first Amendment on the Paper. He would not be justified in making a selection.
§ Motion agreed to.