§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
rose to move:—That for the remainder of the Session Government business he not interruped under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the sittings of the House, and may be entered upon at any hour, though opposed; and that at the conclusion of Government business each day Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without question put.He said: In rising to make the Motion which stands in my name, and which is identical in terms with that made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite the year before last, it will be proper, and the House will expect, that I should give it some idea of the views of the Government with regard to the present position and future prospects of public business. I may, perhaps, conveniently begin by telling the House how matters stand with regard to Supply. The new Rule has been in operation for 18 days out of the 20 minimum days allowed by the Standing Order. On the whole, I think it will be admitted, whether the Rule has worked ill or well for the prospect of Government legislation, it has undoubtedly worked well for the proper discussion of Supply. [Cheers.] There is no doubt that to give up the Friday in each week, which might otherwise be occupied for Government business, is a 155 certain amount of sacrifice, on the part of the Government; but I think it has been a sacrifice well bestowed. ["Hear, hear!"] If the House agrees with me in thinking that it is for its dignity and utility and for the convenience of private Members anxious to make their criticism known that this rule should be maintained, I hope they will make it a success in this its first year of trial. We have actually to vote £73,436,148 in the course of the Session, and of that amount we have in round numbers voted £66,000,000—[cheers]—leaving, therefore, £7,300,000 still to be dealt with. In the actual number of Votes we have not made so satisfactory a progress, as there are a large number of items still to be disposed of, but these are for the most part of a very uncontroversial character, and they have habitually gone through without any serious discussion, and I hope we shall get through the vast majority of them before the last day comes under the Standing Order. I do not propose to hold the House to the minimum of 20 days—["hear, hear!"]—but my idea is to give the full additional three days which we are permitted to do under the Standing Order. I hope in these three days we shall be seconded by Gentlemen in all parts of the House, so that next year there will be no doubt in any quarter of the House but that a Rule similar to this should be re-enacted as part of our permanent procedure. It is evident we must pass, before separating for the holidays, the Finance Bill, the Light Railways Bill, which has reached the Third Reading stage, the Conciliation Bill, the Truck, the Coal Mines, and the Locomotives Bills, which have passed through Grand Committee, and which stand now for discussion on the Report stage. These are not Measures which ought to take any prolonged discussion. They are Measures which we must undoubtedly pass into law before we separate. While making that statement I do not think we shall have severely to tax the patience or endurance of the House. In the Committee stage there still remain the Scotch Rating Bill, the West Highland Railway (Guarantee) Bill. In the Second Reading stage there is the Uganda Railway Bill, and there still remains to be introduced by the Chief Secretary the Irish Rating Bill, 156 dealing with the share of Ireland of the grant which falls to that country in consequence of the passing of the English Rating Bill. Whether it should be a Bill handing the money over to the Irish Local Taxation Account, or whether the money must be actually allocated to agricultural purposes in Ireland in the course of the present Session, is still a matter open to doubt. There are, in addition to these general Bills, certain Departmental Bills that must be passed. There is the Telegraph Money Bill, the Public Works Loans Bill, the Expiring Laws Continuation Bill, the Friendly Societies Bill, and the Collecting Societies Bill. I believe these two last are Consolidation Bills, on which no discussion need be expected. I now come to the category of Bills which ought to pass, and which I believe can be passed. There is the Military Manœuvres Bill—[cheers]—which is very advanced in the Committee stage, in which every desire has been shown by my hon. Friend in charge of the Bill to meet the views of critics opposite, for which there has been a very strong wish expressed—among others sitting on the other side of the House, by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean—and the passage of which, for the sake of our military efficiency, ought not long to be delayed. [Cheers.] Then there is a Bill to which I have more than once made reference, the Military Works Loans Bill, which is in effect a continuance Bill to the Bill passed two or three years ago, to provide money by loan for building barracks, for which there is now very urgent need, and completing certain other necessary works. That Bill has not yet been introduced, but it is ready to be introduced at any time. Then there remains another military Bill for which, I believe, there is a general desire in all parts of the House—the Military Lands Bill. [Opposition cries of "No, no!"] I understand it is not seriously opposed. I understand that this is a Bill which, having for its object the provision of ranges in various parts of the country, Gentlemen representing all classes of constituencies would desire to see passed. ["Hear, hear!"] Then I come to the series of Bills which I have no hope of passing if there is any serious opposition to them. In many cases I do not think they will be seriously opposed, and it 157 rests with the House to say whether' they shall become law or not during the present Session. They are the Irish Light Railways Bill, the Naval Reserve Bill, the London University Bill, the Stannaries Bill, the Official Secrets Bill, the Election Petitions Bill—which I believe was brought in by Lord Herschell during the time of the last Government and has for its principal object the relief from severe penalties of a gentleman who has suffered under the Election Laws the Housing of the Working Classes (Scotland) Bill, the Railway Assessors (Scotland) Bill, the Larceny Bill, the Burglary Bill, and the Public Health Bill. I believe these Bills are not seriously opposed, but if they are there will be no attempt made to pass them. We abandoned on Thursday last a considerable number of Bills, and in addition to those we propose to take off the Order Paper the Local Government (Aldershot and Farnborough) Bill, the Stipendiary Magistrates (Ireland) Bill—[Nationalist cheers]—the Berriew School Bill, the Post Office, Consolidation Bill, the Teachers' Registration Bill, the Land Tax Commissioners Bill, and the Army Reserve Bill. These Bills will be discharged at as early a date as possible. So far I have dealt, as the House will see, simply with Government Bills, and there remains the more painful task of dealing with those private Bills which still remain on the Paper, and with which considerable progress has been made. The House will have perceived that the Resolution is so drawn that no private Bill can, as it stands, have any chance at all of coming on for further discussion, and I see no possibility of relaxing that Rule in any respect with regard to any Bill to which even the smallest opposition is offered. The House will readily understand the reason why I make that statement. My predecessors, and indeed I myself, have had to make similar statements on similar occasions, and a very disagreeable task it is for the Minister who has to make the statement. The two Bills which have been through Grand Committee, and which seemed likely at one time to have full advantage of the Rule which gives private Bills which have gone through Grand Committee precedence after Whitsuntide, are the Shop Hours Bill and the Benefices Bill. The Shop Hours 158 Bill has indeed passed through Grand Committee, but the Report stage has not yet been even begun, and in view of the opposition which I know will be offered to that Bill, my right hon. Friend who is in charge of the Bill, and who has taken so much trouble in connection with it will not be surprised, though I fear he will be pained, at learning that I can hold out no hope whatever that any opportunity can be given whatever for making further progress with the Bill. The Benefices Bill stands in a more favourable position, because not only has it passed through Grand Committee, but two full Wednesdays have already been devoted to its discussion on the Report stage. Yet, having taken the utmost pains to satisfy myself with regard to the Parliamentary prospects of that Bill, I have to state to the House that I think it would be quite impossible to find the necessary time for carrying the Bill further. [Opposition cheers.]The Bill was discussed for nine days in Grand Committee—a most unusual period—and during the two days on which it was discussed on the Report stage, those in charge of the Bill were not able to make further progress than to get to the end of Clause 1; and I think I am stating what is within the knowledge of every man who has carefully watched the proceedings of the House with regard to the Bill, when I state that whereas the opposition to the Bill hitherto had been confined, during all this long discussion, for the most part to persons sitting on this side of the House, who I hope are in sympathy with Church reform—["Hear, hear!"]—there is a not unimportant phalanx of Gentlemen, not, perhaps, so anxious for Church reform, who are quite ready to throw in the full force of their opposition at the last moment, should the energy of my hon. Friends on this side of the House show any signs of flagging. [Laughter.] This is no laughing matter, because in view of the enormous majority by which the Bill was passed, and in view of the great interests with which it deals, I confess I think it is a very lamentable thing that we should now, at the eleventh hour, be obliged to abandon the fruit of so much sustained Parliamentary and extra-Parliamentary labour. [Cheers.] I certainly should hope that the subject of this Bill may at 159 no distant date be taken up under circumstances which will make the prospects of passing a Measure dealing with this part of the law more happy than they could be under the conditions under which this Bill was introduced. The truth is, and I think my noble Friend in charge of the Measure will be prepared to admit it, that the prospect of getting through a Bill of this magnitude, complexity, and controversial character, in the time that can be allotted to a Bill introduced by a private Member, is so slight that those who set themselves the task will have to learn something by experience, and have to deal with the question more piecemeal—["Hear, hear!"]—and in a somewhat less ambitious manner. Still, I hope that the ambition, the noble ambition of the promoters of the Bill will bear fruit in the future, and that this Parliament will show itself not unequal to the task of dealing with those wants of the Church of England of which it is in so large a measure the guardian. ["Hear, hear!"] It now only remains for me to state the actual terms of the Motion, and to recommend them to the House; but before I do that I would wish to repeat that if there be a private Bill which is in the condition of a Bill that can pass after 12 o'clock—that is to say to which there is no opposition at all—I think arrangements may be made by a well-known method for giving such a Bill an opportunity of passing.
An HON. MEMBER
What about the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Having dashed for the moment, though, I hope, only for the moment, the hopes of hon. Friends of my own who are interested in the Benefices Bill, I am not likely to find extra-Parliamentary time for the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill. [Hear, hear!"] With regard to the Motion itself, I have followed with a faithful, and I hope he will regard it as a flattering, accuracy the example of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, when he was in charge of the business of the House. It is true that he made his Motion at a relatively later period of the Session, and when the bulk, perhaps all, of the controversial business had been got through—[Opposition cheers]—but I would remind those 160 who regard that point as material that what had not been got through in 1894 was Supply. [Cheers.] It has been my object, as far as possible, to get Supply on at reasonable hours, so that the discussion on questions arising out of the Votes might be taken when the House was still fresh. ["Hear, hear!"] I have no expectation that if this House consents to pass this Resolution tonight, any unnecessary or undue burdens will be thrown on hon. Members. It is not the intention of the Government to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to occupy that chair night after night till the small hours of the morning. If the legislative business of the House passes, as I hope it may pass, smoothly and easily, there really will be no reason whatever why we should sit frequently to any late hour at all. In the course of the present Session we have had a good many long sittings, and if similar difficulties arise during the remainder of the Session, we shall be compelled, much against our will, to adopt methods we have before adopted. I have no ground, however, for thinking that such a state of things is possible. I hope we have passed the acutely controversial stage of the Session, and that we may get through the not very formidable programme I have asked the House to consider without requiring Members of the House to be deprived of necessary rest for any length of time. The 12 o'clock Rule was devised for the convenience of the House. I am asking the House to dispense with the 12 o'clock Rule for its own convenience and for no other purpose. If the Measures were rejected by the House the result would not be that we should drop Bills I have stated that we mean to pass, but the result would be that we should have to sit longer to pass them; and, looking at matters from all sides, I really think that Members in all quarters of the House would prefer to sit an hour or so longer every night and get their holidays earlier than stop short at 12 o'clock and be here late in August. ["Hear, hear!" and "No!"] I have explained the policy of the Government. I hope it will commend itself to both sides of the House. No doubt I have said some things which may be unpalatable to those who take an interest in private Bills.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
Has the right hon. Gentleman dropped the Irish Land Bill? [Nationalist laughter and cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I did not mention the Irish Land Bill. The peculiar position of the Bill has been stated so often by myself and so recently by my right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Colonies that I did not think any special notice of it was necessary. Perhaps here I ought to say that it will not be in the power of the Government to accept some of the Amendments to the Motion that are on the Paper. The two Amendments standing in the name of the hon. Member for Lanark I have already answered. With regard to the first and third Amendments, it is evident that the Government cannot accept them. We must pass the Agricultural Rating (Scotland) Bill, and anything which impedes its passing cannot be accepted by us. With regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Flint Boroughs, I think he will see that, whereas he appears to have intended to substitute 1 o'clock for 12 'clock, it will not have that effect, and if it had it is not a limitation of procedure that we could accept. I beg, Sir, to move the Motion that stands in my name. [Cheers.]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.),
who was received with Opposition cheers, said: Sir, the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say he had offered me the flattery of adopting the words of the Resolution which I moved in the year 1894. He alluded in a rather cursory manner to the fact that the Resolution applied itself to a condition of things absolutely different from that to which he now proposes to apply it. I desire to state to the House what has been the practice of Parliament, adopted after the fullest consideration, with reference to the Motion for suspending the 12 o'clock rule en permanence, as I may describe it. That matter was considered in 1893, when Mr. Gladstone was Leader of the House. Mr. Gladstone originally suggested the Motion for suspending the 12 o'clock rule, which would have covered various controversial Bills. It may be in the recollection of many Members of the House that, after the 162 Home Rule Bill had passed in the September, it was proposed to have an autumn or winter Session in November to pass two Bills—the Employers' Liability Bill and the Parish Councils Bill. Mr. Gladstone, before presenting that Motion to the House, altered it in a most material form—that it should not he understood to cover any controversial legislation whatever. That was the great point argued and decided upon that occasion. He also introduced into his Motion a condition that prevented the House sitting at all after 1 o'clock. Therefore, these two principles were laid down—first of all, that the suspension of the 12 o'clock rule should not cover any controversial legislation; and, secondly, that the sitting should not he prolonged beyond 1 o'clock. Now, it was on these conditions and these alone that the Motion was accepted by the Opposition, which was then led by the right hon. Gentleman, and he expressed himself in terms which are deserving of the attention of the House upon the subject of the 12 o'clock rule. He said that in old days the protection that the House had against a Government with a majority abusing its powers by late sittings upon Bills had been effective for that purpose for the protection of the minority. But the 12 o'clock rule, when introduced, was a better protection, and he then pointed out what would be the effect of a Resolution such as that which he has now put into the Speaker's hand when it covered controversial legislation. These were his words, and I quote them in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will adhere to them. He said:—To abolish the 12 o'clock rule and sweep away the old system(the system of Motions for adjournments)at the same time is to hand over the minority, bound hand and foot, to the majority, and, as we know, this particular Opposition and all Oppositions are people upon whom devolves the carrying on of such criticism of Government Bills as may he necessary.Therefore, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, to suspend the 12 o'clock rule in a general form is to deprive——
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed.The Government themselves(this, I think, is well-founded criticism)usually take so favourable a view of their own legislative projects that they think they are quite good enough to pass through the House without any discussion at all.These are the one-clause Bills of which we have heard.It is plain there would be great temptation to a Government possessing, as they must always, a large majority towards the end of the Session to carry to an undue length the discussion of their business unless the minority have restored to them the weapon with which alone they fought before the 12 o'clock rule was established.That was the doctrine the right hon. Gentleman laid down, and he insisted that the only conditions upon which the House should accept the Motion to suspend the 12 o'clock rule should be that no controversial Measures should be proceeded with after that hour. That was accepted by the Government, and it fell to me (for Mr. Gladstone had to leave the House after making the Motion) to give a pledge to the House that no controversial legislative Measures should be taken when the rule was suspended. There was a long discussion as to what controversial Bills should be proceeded with, and upon that we had the doctrine I have referred to laid down by the right hon. Gentleman himself and the First Lord of the Admiralty. One Bill which was greatly discussed as to whether it should come within the rule was the Equalisation of Rates Bill for London. That Bill was supported by almost all the London Members except the Member for St. George's Hanover Square. [Laughter.] The present Leader of the House laid down the rule that it was not because a Bill was approved of by a majority in both Houses that it was a non-controversial Bill. He said:—I wish to be perfectly clear on the point that Bills are not only controversial, but, if objected to on this side of the House, as against Members on that side, and full of detail, would require a considerable amount of discussion.That was the test laid down by the right hon. Gentleman and accepted by the 164 Government of the day, and every controversial Measure was excepted and dismissed as soon as this rule was passed. On September 7 I stated the Bills that would be proceeded with, and all those of a controversial character were abandoned. The House would not suspend the 12 o'clock rule until all controversial legislative business was at an end. When I became responsible for the business of the House in 1894 I fully accepted and acted upon that principle. It was as near as possible at this date in 1894. The Session of that year was shorter by one month than the present Session. It began on March 12, after the retirement of Mr. Gladstone, and therefore, we had arrived, with a month less of the Session, at the same date at which we stand, and it was on July 18 that I stated the Measures which the Government intended to adopt. I did not ask for the suspension of the 12 o' clock rule. I stated the Bills we intended to proceed with in the ordinary course, without any extraordinary proceedings, and I held out the expectation to the House that we should conclude by the end of August. The right hon. Gentleman agreed with the justice of that course in regard to the Measures I read out, which I may say were about half the number the right hon. Gentleman has now read to the House. But the next day the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the adjournment of the House in order to attack the Government upon the legislative programme, which we had laid before the House. The right hon. Gentleman treated me with severe sarcasm on that occasion. The present Colonial Secretary also entered into an elaborate calculation to show how impossible it was that the programme could be got through before November. I proposed to give two days to the Indian Budget, and the right hon. Gentleman the present Leader of the House said that in the circumstances the Indian Budget would come on about the middle of November. But I endured that ridicule, remembering the proverb that those laugh best that laugh last, and it so happened that by August 16 the whole of that programme, almost without exception, and several other Bills, were carried into law. [Cheers.] After that demonstration I shall not criticise the 165 list of Bills which the right hon. Gentleman has laid before us. Learning wisdom by experience, I shall not attempt to give an arithmetical calculation as to the number of days each Bill—including the Irish Land Bill and the Scotch Bating Bill—will require. I shall not expose myself to the refutation of facts which overwhelmed the prognostications of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. [Cheers.] I hope they may have as fortunate a fate as I experienced in 1894. That, then, is what we did in 1894. We laid before the House what we thought a reasonable programme which could be carried without recourse to exceptional measures. We did not ask for the suspension of the 12 o'clock rule at all until the whole of that programme had been accomplished. [Cheers.] I should say that on that occasion the present Secretary to the Colonies said—Since I have been in the House of Commons, I admit that every Government in turn have accused the Opposition of obstruction. Opposition to the Government always appears like obstruction; and I think great credit is due to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for not having repented that hackneyed cry.[Cheers.] I thanked the right hon. Gentleman then and I thank him now for having done me that justice. [Cheers.] I do not think it wise or even dignified to be always whining about obstruction. [Loud cheers.] I always remember the old saying that it is the bad workman who complains of his tools. [Cheers.] The reason why the Colonial Secretary implored us in 1894 not to go on with the programme we successfully carried through was that the actual Session only began on March 12; that it was a very short Session, and had already done good work. The right hon. Gentleman asked was it not a good record for the House of Commons to make in a single Session to carry through three such Bills as the Budget Bill, the Employers' Liability Bill, and the Parish Councils Bill? "I do not I think," he said,—that in the history of our legislation for the last 20 years you could find any Parliament in which more has been done that is, as to the importance of the Bills that have been passed.[Cheers.] I hope these words will he remembered when the Mouse of Commons is charged, by men who are its 166 Leaders, with being incapable of doing its business. [Loud cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman also said,—I say again that this Session of Parliament has done more legislative work than any Parliament which has sat for 20 years,and he went into an elaborate proof of how Parliament had done more work and was capable of doing more work than it had done before obstruction was heard of. "You may say," he said,—that this Parliament has done as much as was accomplished during the eventful years of 1869 to 1874.That was the testimony of the Colonial Secretary as to what, the last Parliament was able to accomplish; and it was not found necessary in that Parliament to suspend the 12 o'clock rule in order to carry its legislative business. [Cheers.] It was not until our programme for the Session of 1894 was accomplished that, on August 16, I moved to suspend the 12 o'clock rule. I should like to state the terms in which I gave notice of that Motion. On the 15th of August I said:—I desire to give notice that to-morrow I will move, as is usual when the legislative business of the Session practically reaches its end, the following Resolution.and then I read the words which the right hon. Gentleman has adopted. But why has not the right hon. Gentleman accepted the preamble, that the legislative business of the Session has been completed? [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman then accepted that Motion. He said:—It was to apply to Supply only, but he hoped the House would not be asked to sit at undue length, and that if an important vote came on after 12 o'clock the Government would not enforce its being discussed, but would go on to a less controversial vote.I say it is impossible to conceive a more careful and deliberate decision of the House of Commons only to suspend the 12 o'clock rule in regard to non-controversial Measures. [Cheers.] That is what the present Government when in Opposition demanded—that is what the present Opposition when in Government agreed to, as the proper method of dealing with the question of the suspension of the 12 o'clock rule. [Cheers.] I ask, then 167 what is the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman coming forward and making this proposal to cover controversial legislative business? What is the justification for it? [Cheers.] We passed our Measures and concluded the Session in 1894 in the time we appointed without having to resort to the course which is now proposed. I said the Session would conclude by the end of August. It concluded on the 23rd of August, earlier than I had reason to anticipate. What is the meaning, therefore, of this demand—a demand which has never been made upon the House before, a demand which is contrary to the whole practice of the House, a demand which is contrary to the precedent solemnly established in 1894? [Cheers.] A great deal has been said on the subject of Closure by compartments. Gentlemen opposite say they disapprove of it. [Ministerial cheers.] So do I. [Cheers.] I think it a very reprehensible practice. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes; but it is to your ingenuity we owe it; it was you who set the precedent for the first time. [Cheers.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
No; I think it was during the Coercion Act of 1887. [Cheers.] But I do not wish to raise these controversies. [Ministerial laughter.] If you like I will, and I will insist that it was you who set the precedent, because it is the fact. [Cheers.] It is, I think, a most undesirable practice, and I have never been a party to it, except with great reluctance, It is a curious fact that it has only been applied in connection with Irish Bills. But if it is justifiable at all, it can only be justified by extreme necessity. Everyone will, I think, admit that. But, in my opinion, Closure by all-night sittings is a very much worse form of Closure. [Cheers.] It has precisely the same effect. It passes legislative Measures without proper discussion, and it passes them with greater inconvenience to everybody than Closure by compartments, It is extremely inconvenient to the minority, but it is stil more inconvenient to the majority because there are more of them—[laughter]—and it is therefore about the worst form of Closure that you could possibly apply. For what is the 168 suspension of the 12 o'clock rule? It is practically giving the Government the right to perpetual all-night sittings. [Cheers.] Of course you may say you will not use it unless you want it. But you have no right to ask the minority to pass such Bills as the Irish Land Bill and the Scotch Rating Bill—the two most controversial Bills of the Session during all-night sittings. [Cheers.] It is too much to ask the House to accept. There is nothing to prevent the Government if they like from passing every one of their controversial Measures by all-night sittings. Where is the proof of the necessity of anything like what the right hon. Gentleman proposes? I point to the years 1893 and 1894 to show that a Government can, without asking for any power of this kind, pass legislation of a very respectable character. In the short Session between March 12 and August 16, 1894, we passed the Finance Act, the Local Government (Scotland) Act, the Equalisation of Rates (London) Act, the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, the Housing of the Working Classes Act, and, of smaller Measures, the Notices of Accidents Act, the Building Societies Act, the Merchant Shipping Consolidated Act, the Diseases of Animals Act, the London Improvement Act, the Thames Conservancy Act, the Wild Birds Protection Act, and others. Those were passed without suspending the 12 o'clock rule at all. I know the right hon. Gentleman entertains a low opinion of the power of the House of Commons to do business. ["Hear, hear!"] He has said,—One lesson that I drew is that until the Rules of Procedure are fundamentally altered, if that time has ever to come, it is absolutely necessary to deal with legislative problems by short Bills,and he added,—I am unable to conceive a situation under which in future it will he possible for any Government to bring in a long and contentious Measure, and hope to pass it through the House of Commons in one Session.What has led him to that conclusion? Your Parliament and your majority? But it was not impossible for our Parliament with our majority to pass a long Bill during a single Session. [Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN: "Hear, hear!"] There 169 is the testimony of the right hon. Gentleman who cheers me that no Parliament ever passed so many important Bills. I dare say the right hon. Gentle man means the Closure by compartments of the Home Rule Bill, but let me mention to him some other Bills. Was the Parish Council Bill a short Bill? The last Parliament did not find it impossible to pass the Parish Council Bill, which took 40 days and was encountered by an opposition—I do not like to use the adjectives—persistent and, to borrow a phrase of the right hon. Gentleman, garrulous. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman, assuming the new character of a Parliamentary handicapper, has told us, on the authority of Admiral Rous, that there is not a difference of more than 4 lb. or 6 lb. between one jockey than another. [Laughter.] I do not Is now that I should call my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton exactly a lightweight [laughter]—I should hardly like to place myself in that category—[Renewed laughter]—but my right hon. Friend did not abandon the Parish Council Bill, after five days in Committee, on account of obstruction. No, Sir, my right hon. Friend could give the present Government 2 stone and a beating. [Laughter.] But the right hon. Gentleman's images are not at an end, for he tells us he thinks the Angel Gabriel would have been a very moderate manager of the House of Commons. [Renewed laughter.] I dare say he would. We do not pretend to the attributes of the Angel Gabriel, but we never found that difficulty in passing a long Bill in a single Session. I should like to ask whether the Finance Bill of 1894 was a short Bill. In that short Session that long Bill went through. There were 37 days given to it. Amendments after Amendments were piled upon it every morning, but we did not whimper about obstruction. We went on with it and we did not turn round after five days in Committee, and say, "Oh, the House of Commons is incapable of doing business." We went on to show that the House of Commons was capable of doing business. ["Hear, hear!" and cheers.] The House of Commons is—I was almost going to use the word—slandered by its Leader, and is held' up to the country as a body 170 which is incapable of doing its business I think the phrase which the right hon. Gentleman used, in order to explain his disasters, was "that it was due to the essential characteristics of Debate in the modern House of Commons." No; it was not due to the characteristics of Debate in the modern House of Commons. It was due to the characteristics of the present Administration. [Cheers.] That is the ground of these denunciations of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that one of his great misfortunes is that he has not got any Opposition. [Laughter.] That is most unfortunate; we do our best to accommodate him; if we can do better I promise him we will try. [Renewed laughter.] He said that in the old days there was always a homogeneous Opposition. Was there? What was the Opposition from 1880 to 1885? [Cheers.] Was there not a Tory Party supported by Mr. Parnell and his followers, and, I will not say supported, but harried by the Party which sat below the Gangway—the Fourth Party. The right hon. Gentleman may remember these things when he talks of former days. [Laughter.] Oh, no, it is not the want of an Opposition, it is not the incapacity of the House of Commons to pass a long Bill in a short Session, that has led to the disaster which induced the right hon. Gentleman to ask for methods of coercion which have never been given before and which I hope the House of Commons will never give. If you wobble with your Bills; if you do not know your own mind; if you put down Amendments one day and withdraw them the next—["hear, hear!"]—and after having withdrawn the Amendments, withdraw the clause to which they were proposed; if the Measures you bring forward are not supported by your own Party; if you have a divided council and a distracted Party, well, then, you cannot expect to pass either long Bills or short Bills in a single Session. I protest against this endeavour to hold up the House of Commons to the contempt of the country. [Loud cheers.] Why, in 1896, is the House of Commons, with a great Conservative majority, incapable of passing a long Bill in a single Session? Some explanation of that is required from the Leader of the House before he denounces the 171 impotence and the incapacity of the House before the country. At the beginning of his speech the right hon. Gentleman spoke of Supply. We have not come yet to the guillotine, and there was an old saying of a wise man that you call no man happy till his death. I therefore shall not venture to express an opinion upon your scheme of Supply until Supply has come to a close; but the right hon. Gentleman said that in 1894 we gave less time to Supply than you are giving. As far as I can ascertain, the number of days we gave to Supply in that short Session was, as near as possible, the same number that you will give this year. With Supply I hope the House will deal reasonably; I have no reason to anticipate they will do otherwise. As to the Bills the right hon. Gentleman referred to, I have only to say that many of them, I have no doubt, are Bills that might, with advantage, be passed in the few weeks which still remain before the time contemplated for proroguing Parliament. But amongst, those Bills are Bills of the gravest importance, and of the most controversial character, and for which, I say, he has no right to suspend the 12 o'clock rule. What I would recommend him to do is to postpone, as he did in 1894, to a later period the making of this Motion. He should adjourn this Debate, go on with the controversial Measures, and when he has got rid of the controversial Measures and reached the point which we reached in the middle of August 1894, come forward with this Motion, which would receive the support of the Opposition, as it did in 1894. That is what we are entitled to ask. I have been always extremely ready and willing to enter into arrangements with reference to the close of the Session, and I have always found the right hon. Gentleman, when he was in Opposition, prepared to make similar amicable arrangements. But arrangements have only been concluded on the basis of not suspending the 12 o'clock rule with reference to controversial business. We took a month for legislative. Measures after the statement that. I made on July 18, and they were all completed by August 16. If they had not been completed some of them would have been dropped. When they had been disposed of, there being some Supply left, we made the Motion similar 172 to this. Those are the circumstances in which this Motion should be applied, and I cannot conceive why the right hon. Gentleman should not take the same course. Let him take his chance for the next month with his controversial Measures and then let him make this Motion for the disposal of such business as Supply, and he will not meet with opposition. But if this Motion is to hang as a sword over our heads, if it is intended to force through by all-night sittings Measures of a most controversial character, we must offer most strenuous opposition both to the Resolution and its application. [Cheers.]
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)
observed that his memory went back to the days when there; was neither a 12 o'clock Rule nor even a 12.30 Rule, and when Ministers had only two days a week at their disposal, and were, nevertheless, able to carry through a good many Measures. The Leader of the Opposition had reminded the House of former achievements and failures, but that list was of no more interest than the pages of a long disused Bradshaw's Railway Guide. What they had to regard now was the present state of business and the view the country took of the position. From one end of the country to the other men were asking what was the use of a Parliamentary majority of 150—[ironical Opposition cheers]—if it could not legislate. The nation expected that an earnest effort would be made to pass useful Measures which it had been demonstrated were wanted. Nothing could be more dangerous from the point of view of those who wished business to be done than to take the advice of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and to defer the request for an extension of their hours. If this Motion were deferred they would be driven into a corner and it would become almost hopeless to pass the Measures awaiting disposal. They ought to take steps to prevent this Session from being a ghastly failure. Would the House of Commons retain its credit if it should fail as a legislative machine, and was not the view already largely prevalent that the House was not fulfilling the very purpose for which it existed? The practice of wasting Parliamentary time and thus defeating Measures had become almost an exact 173 science which this Session had reached a point never attained in former years. Hon. Members ought to be willing to sacrifice, if necessary, a portion of their holidays. It was absurd to talk as if a prorogation in the middle of August was the one thing which must not be lost sight of. Only after the Bills which the Government thought ought to be passed had become law ought the House to think of holidays. If the Leader of the House made a point of carrying all the most important Measures of the Government his Party would stand by him. ["Hear!"]
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
, referring to the views expressed by the right hon. Baronet, said that, in his opinion, nothing was more likely to render this Session a ghastly failure and to destroy the credit of the House of Commons than the passing of a Motion of this kind. ["Hear, hear!"] It was not only without precedent, but would strike a severe blow at their methods of procedure. It would interfere with their comfort, and was opposed to the public interest. He would show how. He did not care that the reports of their proceedings should be very full, but there ought to be a fairly full and accurate record of what passed in that House, so that those outside who were interested in different subjects might know what was done. If this Motion were adopted such a record would not be supplied. They would undoubtedly sit up night after night until a very late hour, if not all night, and the business would be transacted by relays of Members under the control of Whips. In those circumstances, they could not expect an accurate report of their Debates, it being impossible to organise relief staffs of reporters of the same calibre as those who ordinarily reported the proceedings in that House. Then the proposal of the Government was a very serious thing as regarded the health of Members. There were, no doubt, objections to longer Sessions, but surely the disadvantages of sitting up very late night after night for a month were far greater than those that would be involved in their meeting for a longer period of the year. This rule would apply in the case of far more important Measures than any to which such a Motion had ever applied before, and it 174 applied to Wednesdays as well as other days. There would, in fact, be nothing to prevent the House from sitting permanently. He did not know what a jury would say if the health of Members broke down and the Leader of the House were committed on a charge of murder.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The speech of the right hon. Baronet is based on the hypothesis that the desire of the Government is to have all-night sittings. I did not say that; in fact, I said precisely the contrary.
§ * SIR C. DILKE
remarked that Members of the Front Ministerial Bench always said that. It was the long list of Measures that had to be disposed of that must be taken into account. Governments, of course, always said that it was not their intention to keep the House sitting all night, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman opposite had said that on the two last occasions when he suspended the 12 o'clock Rule, and yet the House did sit all night. No doubt they would not feel the full force of what they were doing for a few days. The Government Whips would be anxious to falsify the predictions of their opponents, and would arrange with Members that Bills should not be taken on a particular night; but when they came to consider the importance of the Bills on the Paper it was certain the House would be asked to sit night after night all night under circumstances which would justify a fair jury in bringing in a verdict of attempted murder against the Leader of the House—[a laugh]—for the proceedings he was asking the House to take. With regard to the condition of Supply, he did not know whether they were to have a Vote—he rather imagined they were—in regard to the Soudan war; but putting that aside—and he need hardly say the Vote would be highly controversial—there were left over for discussion the Debates on those Government Departments, the administration of which had to be criticised by the House with that fair and full scrutiny which was the object of the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman. There were, for example, the Home Office Vote, the Local Government Board Vote, the Board of Trade Vote, and the Vote for the Office of Woods, and so forth. It was only under the Home Office Vote they could criticise the administration of the Factory Acts 175 and the great changes introduced during the last few years. It was neither lengthy nor hostile criticism that was likely to be aroused, but criticism which a great many people wanted to have at an hour when they would know what was going on. The right hon. Gentleman thought he proved his case with regard to the successful working of the new rule for Supply by quoting the millions of money that had been voted, but in point of fact the importance of a discussion in Supply had nothing to do with the amount of money involved. Take the Ordnance Factories Vote. That was only a Vote for £100, the bulk of the money being repaid from other Departments, and it was put on the Estimates at the desire of the Comptroller and Auditor General simply in order that the enormously important subjects, military and labour, which it raised, should be adequately discussed. There were other contentious Measures to which different observations applied, and he held that they would defeat one of the main reasons for which Parliament existed if they I carried on its proceedings in the dead of night.[Ministerial cheers.] There were some bills which were not controversial, but which yet contained points that ought to be dealt with in the day time. Take the Truck Bill and the Coal Mines Bill—he would not mention the Conciliation Bill. There were Amendments upon each of these Bills, not likely indeed to take very long, but specially interesting to important classes outside the House, who would want to know what had passed when these Amendments were discussed. He would bring these remarks to a conclusion by saying that in his opinion discussion, reasonable and legitimate, was one of the duties which Parliament had to discharge, and that discussion was no real discussion if it was forced on in the dead hours of night when the proceedings of Parliament could not be properly reported in the Press.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said that he had that day a very disagreeable; duty to perform, and that was to vote against the Leader of his Party, because the Motion appeared to him to be in the present case absolutely unjustifiable. His right hon. Friend, according to a speech he made the other day, evidently 176 looked upon the House of Commons as a machine that was rather out of working order owing to the development of eloquence and power of speech. Now, he looked upon that as one of the greatest safeguards of the institutions of the country. [Cheers.] He looked upon it as impossible in the present day to carry through this House any contentious Measure upon which there was not a certainty that the will of the country was absolutely bound up. If the opinion of the country had been clearly ascertained about some of the Measures which they were discussing this Session, in his opinion they never would have been dropped, and they ultimately probably would have become law. His right hon. Friend, he believed, never would have made this Motion, but for the Irish Land Bill. He himself looked upon that Bill as one of the gravest interest to Ireland. A controversial Measure like the Irish Land Bill, affecting, as it did, the gravest interests in Ireland, and the principles which used to belong to the Conservative Party ought not to be discussed in the early hours of the morning in the present canicular atmosphere. [Laughter.] To force on the discussion of such a Bill at this period of the Session was, to his mind, not a satisfactory method of procedure, and was unjust to the Unionist Members of the House. His right hon. Friend in a recent very interesting speech, in alluding to the difficulties of the Government, compared his position as the Leader of the House to that of the manager of a music-hall, the artists of which were not satisfied with one performance, but consented to receive one, two, three, four, and sometimes five encores—["Hear, hear! "and laughter]—which very naturally impeded the business, and brought the performance to an untimely end at midnight. Perhaps it might be of use to his right hon. Friend if he, ventured to express the views of the House of Commons side of the subject. [Laughter.] He would use the same method, and would take the case of the manager of a music-hall, with artists of distinguished ability, their time being limited to 12 o'clock. The artists were told to perform in public, with only one restriction, namely, that they were to go on until the audience would listen to them no longer. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] 177 The last item would be an Irish manifestation of ingenuity—an Irish artist, as they knew, could sing for three hours and 20 minutes. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] What happened? When the time limit for the performance was nearly exhausted, the manager came forward and said:—We will cram all the remainder of our programme into the extreme end of the performance.And so, on a question of such vital importance as the Irish Land Bill, the Government wished to force the House of Commons to discuss and decide upon the questions it involved at a time which would absolutely preclude the possibility of fair Debate. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said that, at all events, that was what the right hon. Gentleman meant by the language he had used. It did not require great ingenuity to look forward to what an Irish landlord would be in the immediate future—he would be a melancholy spectacle, attenuated by the administration of drastic Land Bills and predatory Land Commissions, who would meander over what was once his property in search of his incorporeal hereditaments. ["Hear, hear!"] He protested against the House of Commons dealing with questions of such importance at the end of the Session without time being given them to fairly discuss the various provisions of the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] He was surprised to find that the Government whose position on the Treasury Bench depended upon a majority mainly composed of Conservatives were ready at the end of the Session to force down the throats of their own followers a Bill of this kind without adequate discussion. The course which the Government had thought fit to adopt was an innovation upon the procedure of that House which had never been attempted before. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
said that he thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House must by this time greatly regret the speech that he had delivered the other night in which he had compared the House of Commons to a music hall. In his view the comparison was a most 178 degrading one. [Ironical cheers and laughter.] Hon. Members opposite might laugh, but he was satisfied that in their hearts they approved of his remark. The right hon. Gentleman in the course of his observations had made two important omissions. The right hon. Gentleman had said nothing about the Irish Land Bill and he had omitted to give any indication of the date when he expected the House would adjourn. No statement had been made with reference to the Measures which the Government intended to proceed with or when they expected that the Session would be brought to an end. Even assuming that the discussion upon the Irish Land Bill would be brought to an end that week there would only remain 12 days for the Government to complete their business in. How were they to get through the mass of business before them by that time. The present proposal if carried would enable the Government to compel the House to sit up all night as often as they pleased. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the object of the 12 o'clock rule was to meet the convenience of hon. Members, but its real object was to conduce to the better conduct of public business. It was quite impossible for the business to be properly conducted at a late hour in the morning. The right hon. Gentleman had, he thought, been unnecessarily hard with regard to private Bills. Of course it was clear that it was practically impossible for any private Member to get through highly - contentious Measures like the Benefices Bill, but there were a number of private Bills on the Order Paper which were practically non-contentious, or which were only objected to by a single individual. There was one Bill, in charge of his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lanark, which he had been asked to support by Conservatives in Scotland, and he did not think his hon. Friend should be deprived of his last chance of getting that Bill through. There had been during the Session only two sittings of the House devoted to Scotch business—the consideration of the Scotch Rating Bill. That was not a very long Bill, but it had the longest title of any short Bill that he had had experience of. The reason for that was that it was really four Bills rolled into one. Many Scotch Members might be 179 inclined to support one portion of it and not another, and English Members might take an interest in one part of it and not another. Surely Scotch Members had a claim, having received so little attention and time from the Government, that at any rate this Bill should be fully and fairly considered in Committee. The West Highland Railway Bill was of course a much smaller matter, but it involved a very important principle. He was strongly opposed to that Bill, and he thought they ought to have an opportunity of discussing it at a reasonable hour of the night. He would therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would give them an undertaking that, as regards that class of Bills which he had mentioned, beginning with the Conciliation Trades Disputes Bill, and ending with the Irish Bating Bill—Bills which he had acknowledged were of very considerable importance—their consideration should not be entered upon after 12 o'clock.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
called the attention of the House to the extreme importance of the step they were asked to take, which was practically the abrogation of the 12 o'clock Rule. Did the House desire that this Rule should be whittled away piece by piece? When the Rule was instituted, the House, by painful and practical experience, had found that prolonged sittings were injurious not only to the health but to the lives of Members of the House, and that the character of legislation and of Parliament suffered by these lengthened proceedings. He ventured to say that the country cared uncommonly little about the details of their Rules of Procedure, but the country liked to know what they were doing, and, as had been pointed out by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, they were now proposing to conduct their sittings practically in camera. [Opposition cheers.] They were proposing to rush important legislation through Parliament behind the back of the country. To suppose that discussions would be reported after midnight was to fly in the face of well-known facts. The early publication of the daily Press precluded late Debates from being adequately reported in their columns, and it was very well known that Debates carried on into 180 the small hours of the morning did not generally get into print at all unless they led to discreditable scenes, in which case they were reproduced in the evening papers under the head of "Disorderly Proceedings," or "Disgraceful Scenes." [Laughter.] When the Rule was instituted a distinct assurance was given, acquiesced in by the Leaders on both sides of the House, that it should not be suspended except under special and exceptional circumstances, and it was indicated that those circumstances were when it was sought to bring a great Debate to a close. During the course of this Session there had been more frequent suspensions of this Rule than, he thought, had ever been known—[Opposition cheers]—and the Rule had been suspended for the purpose of enabling controversial Measures to be forced through Parliament by dint of sheer physical pressure. He thought the House had unwisely allowed the Report of Supply to be excepted, and to allow financial Bills to be excepted was open to grave abuse. The Measure embodying the financial proposals of the year was actually called upon and taken after midnight, and that, he thought, was a grave abuse of the Rule, in direct conflict with the assurances given to the House when the Rule was instituted. He knew that it was an open secret that some Members of the Government were not particularly in sympathy with the 12 o'clock Rule. Unless the House of Commons took very good care they would find that bit by bit attempts would be made practically to abolish this Rule. There was not a single argument which had been used that night by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House which could not equally be applied to that object. They might be told that they ought to be wise in time and take precautions in February and March, when the Session was young. What the House had to consider was, did it or did it not intend to stand by the 12 o'clock Rule? If any one thing more than another could discredit the Government and the House of Commons, it was doing work in a slipshod fashion at hours when all decent people ought to be in bed. [Laughter and Opposition cheers.] He was not quarrelling with the arbitrary limitation of the Session. On the 181 contrary, he believed that the country, if it meant anything by its recent electoral decision, meant that very little legislation should be obtruded on the notice of Parliament, that Departmental Ministers were to efface themselves for a time, and that Parliament was not to have its time occupied with the fruitless discussion of Bills that were ultimately to be abandoned, and that it ought not to have its energies exhausted by excessive attempts at legislation. The Leader of the Opposition made what seemed to him a very fair offer. He offered to cooperate with the Government in a friendly manner with a view to bringing the Session to a reasonably early close. He thought that the time was not passed when his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House might take the right hon. Gentleman at his word. In the old days Sessions were brought to a close not by gag and the guillotine, not by the abrogation of the Rules of the House, but by friendly conversations between the representatives of the various Parties in the House, and he thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had been acting in accordance with the old Parliamentary traditions when he signified his willingness to cooperate with the Government with a view to terminating the Session within a reasonable time. He hoped the Debate would not close without that offer being accepted. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
observed that, looking to the keen and impartial opposition that had been developed on the other side, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Sir J. Fergusson) was somewhat premature and ill-informed when he declared that the Ministerial Party were going to stand by the right hon. Gentleman in regard to this Motion. [Ironical cheers.] With regard to the present position of Supply, he acknowledged that the Leader of the House had made a great concession to private Members in arranging to take Supply once a week, but the accompanying condition limiting Supply to a certain number of days would, he contended, militate against its successful working. Now, they had, according to the arrangement, five more days in Supply. One of these was already pledged to Ireland, one would be given to African affairs, one to 182 Scotland, and then there was Class 5, about which not one word had been said up to the present time, including, though it did, the Foreign and Colonial and Consular Services. That would pretty well dispose, and more than dispose, of the five additional days in Supply. Yet, in all this not one word would be said about the President of the Board of Trade's Department, the Board of Agriculture, the Office of Works, or the Treasury, one of the most important Departments of this country. There would, he estimated, be 50 or 60 Votes about which there would be no possibility of saying a word. It was time to protest—and this was the last opportunity of doing so—about this extraordinary state of affairs. Then, with regard to the Bills, he assented that it was quite impossible, even if they sat till 2 or 3 o'clock every night, that the Bills the right hon. Gentleman bad enumerated could receive anything like reasonable discussion if they were to be passed this year. It was clear that the right hon. Gentleman must either abandon some of the Bills he had named, or else he was going to ignore his pledge about the House rising towards the middle of August. He wished to know what the Government proposed to do with regard to the closure of Supply on the 23rd night.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
hoped that the Government would not press the University of London Bill. The present Charter provided that no change should be made without the consent of Convocation. The Bill, however, contained no such provision, and his constituents had done nothing to forfeit their right. They were not opposed to some changes which would bring the Senate into closer touch with the colleges, but in its present form the Bill was opposed by the great majority of the graduates. He trusted the Government would not use the suspension of the 12 o'clock Rule to force the Bill through. He admitted that it was for the general convenience of the House that the Rule should be suspended, so as to facilitate the winding up of the business of the Session. But this was new legislation, and had not yet even been introduced into the House of Commons. ["Hear, hear"] He very much regretted the announcement made by the 183 Leader of the House with reference to the Early Closing Bill. He regretted it, not of course on his own account, but on account of the thousands of their countrymen and countrywomen who were now working 14 hours a day. The Bill might be divided into two parts, one dealing with early closing generally, and the other with the question of a half-holiday. He believed that many of those who opposed the first portion would not only not oppose, but even support, the second; and if he could, by confining the Bill to this part, remove the opposition, or reduce it to very narrow limits, he hoped that his right hon. Friend would do what he could to permit the passage of the Bill.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I hope the Debate will soon come to an end, but I now rise to reply to some observations which ought to be replied to. My right hon. Friend has asked me two questions with regard to two Bills in which he is interested—the London University Bill and the Shop Hours Bill. He has announced on his own part and on the part of the important University body which he represents that the London University Bill will necessarily require a certain amount of time for discussion; and if my right hon. Friend persists in that view it will be impossible for the Government to endeavour to pass the Measure into law during the course of the present Session. With regard to the Shop Hours Bill, I do not believe that any process of vivisection carried out on that Measure will reduce it to the condition of an absolutely uncontroversial Bill, and unless it can be done it would be impossible for me to depart in its favour from the general principle which I have laid down with regard to all private legislation. ["Hear, hear!"] With regard to the more general criticism made on the Motion, let me dismiss in the first place that part of our Debate which was concerned, not with the Motion before the House nor with the speech in which it was introduced, but with a speech delivered in another place to a different audience on Friday night. The right hon. Gentleman opposite seems to have passed a congenial Sunday in devising an answer to that speech—[laughter]—and I dare say the answer he has devised 184 is a very good one, but it had little to do with the Motion before the House, and if I had been in his place I should have reserved it for one of those embarrassing moments when a public speech has to be made on a public platform and when no very congenial topic suggests itself. [Laughter and cheers.] So profoundly do I appear to have impressed hon. Gentlemen with those humble remarks of mine on Friday, that no fewer than two other Members have spent a good deal of their time in discussing, in commenting, in expanding, and in making general scholastic glosses on my answers. [Laughter.] I hope that the speech was worth all the trouble expended on it—[laughter]—but I confess that until I heard the Debate this evening I had no suspicion that this was the case. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean both commented in a spirit of lugubrious prophecy upon the prospects of the Rule with regard to Supply. I am the last to deny that if it is the intention or the desire of a minority of the House to make that Rule unworkable it is easy for them to do so; and there are plenty of persons who think that so far as Government business is concerned we should get on better without it, and that the old plan of getting through Government business in the earlier part of the Session and reserving Supply to be huddled through after 12 o' clock in the middle or at the end of August is a plan which, however little it may suit private Members, or is suitable for the convenience of those who wish to discuss the policy of the Government, is, at all events, a very convenient plan for the Government. I hope that the moral we shall have to draw from this Session will not be that moral. The only remaining point which requires to be discussed is the fallacy which has run through every speech delivered against this Motion. It has been assumed by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet, and assumed by most speakers on the other side of the House—it formed the whole basis and substance of the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean—that the Government proposed to have a series of all-night sittings in order to drive controversial legislation 185 through the House at a time when a report of our proceedings would be impossible. No such intention has been entertained by the Government, and I do not entertain an expectation that this will happen. Hon. Members have used the expression, "Taking power by this Motion to have an all-night sitting." We are not doing anything of the kind. ["Oh, oh!"] We have that power at the present moment, and therefore we cannot be taking it by this Motion. Have we not heard to-night complaints from hon. Members of the number of times the House has been asked to sit to a late hour? All those sittings were taken without this Rule.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Of course; but that Motion is carried without Debate. Those long night sittings are in the power of the Government already, and therefore the power is not given by this Motion. What this Motion does give is the power no doubt of having those all-night sittings without putting the House to the trouble of a Division; and what is much more material, and what was in the mind of the Government when they proposed the Resolution, was that it will enable them to go on for an hour or an hour and a halt after 12 o'clock—perhaps not so much, very likely not so much—but at all events until it is no longer in the power of a single individual to prevent Progress from being made which the House desires and would like to see. I am asked: "What date will put an end to the Session?" The House must see that as there is a certain amount of business to be got through, we must either take more days or longer days. After all, the matter rests more in the hands of the Opposition than in the hands of the Government. As for our part, I shall do my best in this as in every other case to meet the general convenience of the House. [Cheers.] I am the last person who likes all-night sittings, and I should not like to deprive the country of the pleasure which I understand it derives from reading a full report of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen by carrying on our Debates to a very late hour.
§ MR. HENRY LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said the complaint which 186 they made was that the right hon. Gentleman had not massacred a sufficient lumber of his innocents. With the programme which he had sketched they could not possibly rise in the middle of August unless they performed their duty in a very perfunctory manner. As far as he was concerned, he did not sympathise with those hon. Members who spoke of their health suffering from long sittings of the House. There was sitting opposite to him a right hon. Gentleman (Mr. James Lowther). They had been in the House together in years gone by and they had had some long sittings there, but he observed that his right hon. Friend seemed to bear his years exceedingly well. It was, therefore, a perfect delusion to suppose that their health would suffer by sitting up later at night. Another reason given was that they could not, have their speeches reported, but he could assure hon. Members that the country would take that matter uncommonly cool. The country would bear up against the loss. It might be supposed from these remarks that he was going to vote for the Motion, but anyone who supposed that did not know the resources of the mind of the Opposition. [Laughter,] He was one of those who advocated regular hours. He did not think that this was a reasonable proposal; the right hon. Gentleman was putting too much into the Session; he was breaking too severely into the 12 o'clock Rule. He observed that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House made a speech on Friday. He did not devote the whole of Sunday to reading that speech, but he did give part of his time because he thought it a very good speech. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman had stated in his speech of last Friday that the Angel Gabriel could not carry on the business of the country with the present rules of the House. He (Mr. Labouchere) was not only of that opinion, but he thought the other Angel—the Opposition Angel—who was probably a more astute Parliamentarian—[laughter]—could not do so either. What they wished was that the right hon. Gentleman should propose a drastic reform of the Rules of Procedure. Put the Members behind the right hon. Gentleman thought that the less legislation there was the better. [Ministerial cries of "Hear, hear!"]
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
, whose rising was received with Ministerial cries of "Divide," said he thought the hon. Member for Northampton had received the sympathy of the House under false pretences. He had foreshadowed longer days and more days, but he, Mr. Bowles had constantly known the hon. Member to leave the country in August for Homburg. [Laughter.]
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said he had spoken from a purely unselfish point of view. He was going away on the 5th or 6th of August, and he should, when abroad, read the reports of the sittings of the House with great pleasure. [Lauthter.]
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
continued his speech under continued interruption from his own side, the Opposition sometimes supporting him by cries of "Order." If, he said, the House did not wish to hear him, he would sit down. [Loud Ministerial cheers and laughter.] He objected to the waste of time involved in sitting up all night. He thought it a little hard, however great the Tory majority might be, that it should be impatient of listening to the expression of the views of a private Member in favour of the independence of the House. [Cheers, and cries of "Divide!"] There were times when the suspension of the 12 o'clock rule might be necessary, but never before had a general, final-to-the-end-of-the-Session suspension of the 12 o'clock rule been proposed in circumstances like these. [Cries of "Divide!"] When the present Leader of the Opposition proposed it there remained only nine days of the Session, but now, according to the First Lord of the Treasury himself, there remained 20 days. ["Hear, hear!"] Moreover, such a Motion had never been brought forward except as the last despairing resort of the Government proposing it. ["Hear, hear!" and interruptions.] Dealing with the question of Supply the hon. Gentleman, who spoke amid constant cries of "Divide!" and interruptions, was understood to contend that fewer Parliamentary days would be devoted to this subject under the right hon. Gentleman's arrangement than had been the average for many years past. He was continuing his observations when,
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney) moved, "That the Question be now put."
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
rose with great diffidence to make an appeal to the House. The importance of this question nobody could doubt, and he should be the last to be so foolish as to suggest that the Opposition were not within their right in discussing it adequately. But he ventured to submit that adequate discussion of the Motion had already been had. ["Hear, hear!"] He would point out that what was really at stake at that moment was the Irish Land Bill. All through the Session the Irish Members had waited for the occasion to arrive when a certain measure of time would be allotted for the consideration of a question which, by the admission of all parties, was one of most vital importance to the peasantry of Ireland. They had arrived almost at the end of the Session; a very small modicum of time, indeed, had been allotted to the discussion of the Land Bill, and the question whether it could pass or not depended not upon days, but almost upon hours. That being so, he appealed to Members of all Parties not unnecessarily to prolong discussion' even on the important question now before them, bearing in mind that every hour they passed in its discussion was an hour eaten out of the time allotted to the discussion of the Irish Land Bill, and which would consequently diminish its chance of passing into law during the present Session, although he was sure no section of the House desired to defeat the Bill, ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid) moved after the word "Session," to insert the words "except on Wednesdays," so that Government business should not be taken after half-past 5 o' clock on Wednesdays. The Leader of the House had stated that he desired to meet the convenience of Members of the House, and it was greatly to their convenience that they should, at any rate, be able to make their arrangements on Wednesdays throughout the whole of 189 the Session as they were able to do now. It was more necessary to have Wednesday evenings free if they were to devote the small hours of the morning of every other Parliamentary day in the week to the discussion of Government business. He trusted, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would accept the Amendment.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
remarked that, as he had informed the House at the beginning of the Debate, the form of the Motion had been taken textually from that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite in 1894, and in that Motion no mention was made of Wednesdays. He quite recognised the force of what the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment had said, but it was never the intention of the Government to take the time of the House after half-past 5 on Wednesdays. Under these circumstances, he had no objection to accepting the Amendment, and he appealed to the House to come to a decision on the question before them.
SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton) moved at the end of the Question, to add the words—
and before one o'clock a.m. no dilatory Motion shall be moved except by a Minister of the Crown.
He said that a rule had sprung up, he believed, that after the House had suspended the Twelve o'clock rule the Chair regarded that as an intimation that no dilatory Motion should be moved after Twelve o'clock. The object of putting in these words in 1893 was to carry out the view of the right hon. Gentleman himself. If his proposal were adopted it would insure that then; would no interference with the business of the Government before 1 o'clock, and after 1 o'clock hon. Members would be able to move the adjournment of this House.["No, no!" from below the Gangway on the Opposition side.] He was speaking in the interest of the Opposition. If these words were not inserted the Opposition would not be in a position to make any such Motion, simply because it would be regarded as a dilatory Motion.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
asked the Leader of the House whether, in case of Amendments being made in the House of Lords in the Irish Land Bill, he would undertake that those Amendments should be considered at the beginning of business, and not at a late hour.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said he had no doubt that, if important alterations were made in the Bill in another place, it would be necessary to bring them on when the House could discuss them properly. With regard to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, it appeared to him to have a double disadvantage. If the Resolution were carried in the form the right hon. Gentleman suggested, the Government would either have to substitute a 1 o'clock rule for the 12 o'clock rule, or have to encounter a wrangle every night at 1 o'clock. ["Hear, hear!"] On the other hand, he could well conceive circumstances in which it might be perfectly proper for an hon. Member to move the adjournment of the House before 1 o'clock. For this double reason he could not accept the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, and he hoped it would not be pressed.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said it had been laid down from the Chair, as the House was aware, that when the 12 o'clock rule was suspended the Chair would not entertain a Motion for adjournment after 12 o'clock and before 1 o'clock. After 1 o'clock, he maintained that hon. Members ought to have the power of moving the adjournment. It was for that express purpose that in 1893 Mr. Gladstone proposed the words suggested by his right hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman opposite insisted on them as necessary for the protection of the House against the abuse by the Government of the power given them by the suspension of the 12 o'clock rule. He thought the Government ought to do one of two things. They ought either to accept those words or to give the House some assurance that they did not mean to go beyond 1 o'clock. If the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, would say that he did not intend to proceed with controversial Fills beyond 1 o'clock, he for one would accept that assurance. ["Hear, hear!"]
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said he desired to ask the Speaker whether the ruling to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had referred—namely, that dilatory Motions were not admissible after 12 o'clock—was guided by the fact that the House had made a specific order with regard to a particular Bill.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
said that the ruling had no doubt been generally applied to the case of specific exempted Bills, but he thought he should feel it binding to the same extent when there was a general order of the kind proposed.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said that those on his side were equally anxious with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite to pass the Irish Land Bill, and they would be quite satisfied if they had assurance from the Government that it would not be proceeded with later than 1 o' clock.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
assured his hon. and gallant Friend that there was not the slightest intention to take what were called all-night sittings. If he understood the practice of the Chair it was that, even if this Resolution were passed in the form suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for India, the Chairman would probably hold that after one dilatory Motion had been made and rejected after 1 o'clock some interval, depending on the discretion of the Chair, should intervene before he allowed another dilatory Motion to be made by a private Member. He did not know whether he was right in his representation of the practice of the Chair.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
was understood to say that the Chair would be guided by what it understood to be the motive of the House in passing the Motion. If the motive appeared to be to reserve to the Opposition the right to make successive Motions immediately after 1 o'clock the Chair would act accordingly. He thought that after the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for W. Monmouthshire, the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton would, if adopted, carry that construction.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
thought, then, that the Government would not accept the words proposed, because it would be far 192 simpler to say that 1 o'clock should be substituted for 12 o'clock.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."—Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question, as amended, put:—
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 299; Noes, 106.—(Division List, No. 339.)
§ Ordered, That, for the remainder of the Session, except on Wednesdays, Government Business be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed; and that at the conclusion of Government Business each day Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put.