§ Order read, for resuming adjourned' debate on Amendment to Question [1st July], "That the proceedings in Committee and on Report of the Licensing Bill shall be brought to a conclusion in the manner hereinafter mentioned in six allotted days—
- (a) The proceedings in Committee on Clause 1 on the first allotted day.
- (b) The proceedings in Committee on Clauses 2 and 3 on the second allotted day.
- (c) The proceedings in Committee on Clause 4 on the third allotted day.
- (d) The proceedings in Committee on the remaining clauses of the Bill, and on any new Government clauses, and on schedules and any new Government schedules, and any other proceedings necessary to bring the Committee stage to a conclusion on the fourth allotted day.
- (e) The proceedings on Report on any new clauses and on Amendments to Clauses 1, 2, and 3 of that Bill, he brought to a conclusion on the fifth allotted day; and
- (f) The proceedings on Report be concluded on the sixth allotted day.
§ At 11 p.m. on the said allotted days, or if the day is a Friday at 4.30 p.m., the Chairman or Speaker shall put forthwith the Question or Questions on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair, and shall next proceed successively to put forthwith the Question 489 on any Amendments moved by the Government of which notice has been given (but no other Amendments) and on every Question necessary to dispose of the allotted business to be concluded on the allotted day.
§ In the case of Government Amendments, or of Government new clauses or schedules, he shall put only the Question that the Amendment be made, or that the clause or schedule be added to the Bill, as the case may be.
§ At twelve midnight of the day on which the Third Reading of the Bill is put down as first order, or, if that day is a Friday, at 5.30 p.m., the Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to conclude the proceedings on that stage of the Bill
§ Proceedings to which this Order relates shall not be interrupted (except at an afternoon sitting at 7.30 p.m.), under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to Sittings of the House.
§ After the passing of this Order, on any day on which any proceedings on the Licensing Bill stand as the first Order of the Day, no dilatory Motion on the Bill, nor under Standing Order No. 10, nor Motion to postpone a clause, shall be received, unless moved by the Minister in charge of the Bill, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith. Nor shall any opposed private business be set down at the Evening Sitting for consideration on any of the allotted days, or on the day on which the Third Reading of the Bill is put down as first Order.
§ If Progress be reported, the Chairman shall put this Order in force in any subsequent sitting of the Committee."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
Which Amendment was—
In line 1, to leave out all the words after the word 'That' and insert the words 'this House declines to consider a proposal to deprive the House of Commons, without any justification in the previous course of the debate, of all power of reasonable and adequate discussion in respect of a measure which seeks, in the absence of any authority from the country, to make fundamental and much controverted change in laws vitally affecting the well-being of the people."—(Mr. Asquith.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words 'the proceedings stand part of the Question."490
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
I should not have ventured to intervene in this discussion, but for the very remarkable proposition on which the Prime Minister, in making his Motion, founded his case. I confess that I listened with something like alarm to the language that then fell from the Prime Minister. I seemed to hear foreshadowed that a further Parliamentary revolution was to be added, in his opinion definitely and deliberately, by his Procedure Rules and by utterances that had fallen from him with a full responsibility, to that other revolution to which I think he has already shown us the way since last September—a revolution in the great organ of our Constitution, the solidarity and loyalty of Cabinet Government. I think this Motion, supported by the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman founded his case upon, marks as huge a stride in a revolution of Parliamentary power, Parliamentary authority, and Parliamentary fame as has ever taken place in our history. There have been five guillotine or closure Motions within recent years. The hon. Member for Altrincham said that we on this side had taken the initiative in regard to the guillotine closure. That is a complete misstatement. The first two guillotine closures were taken under the auspices of the present Prime Minister, and were taken in reference to the Parnell Commission Bill and the Crimes Act. The next two were taken in the Government of Mr. Gladstone and of Lord Rosebery. The first was the Home Rule Bill and the second the Evicted Tenants Bill. There has been a fifth guillotine closure Motion, which, or the first time, was on au English Bill. I would have the House note that the first four guillotine closures were all connected with Irish business, and that fact sheds a very considerable light on the difference in treatment that Ireland has experienced from England and Scotland in this House. The fifth guillotine closure was in 1902. I venture to assert that in all those five closures, both in the four Irish closures, and in the fifth, or English, closure two things were alleged by the Government who made the Motion corresponding to that which we are now discussing, the first urgency and the second obstruction. I was in the House during all those closures, and 491 I believe I am perfectly right in making that statement. I think I might note a third point—namely, that in all the three cases there had been very large and ample discussion, less, for reasons I will touch on, in the case of the Evicted Tenants Bill than in the case of the other four closures. What I want to call the attention of the House to is the new departure which the Ministry are making in the proposal they now advance. They do not contend that there has been obstruction. The silence of hon. Gentlemen opposite with which I am met when making that statement—
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
Really the right hon. Gentleman, I thought, the other afternoon, if he will allow me to say so without disrespect, was rather playing with the House. Now he says he did not say so. But what did he say? He carefully abstained on Friday from even suggesting that there was obstruction. Then he does not base his case on obstruction.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
Yes, he does not base his case on obstruction. I trust that hon. Gentlemen opposite, and those who support them and the Government in the Press, will note that this Motion is not based upon obstruction.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
I do not care what it is necessarily based on; I say that previously this Motion always has been based on obstruction, as one of the elements—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, I think the right hon. Gentleman is wrong there. I have not referred to my own speech, but I do not believe he will find that I thought it worth while to allude to the obstruction in the case of the Education Bill, and I am by no means sure that obstruction formed a larger part of the argument of Mr. Gladstone over the Home Rule Bill and the Evicted Tenants Bill.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
However, we will not argue that further. This Motion, this strong, drastic Motion for closure, is not based, as certainly three others of the four were based, upon obstruction. But it is not worth while to press that, because my point is that the right hon. Gentleman has advanced to a much broader position, rightly or wrongly, than has ever before been taken by a Minister making such a Motion as this. It is most remarkable, and nothing can be more worthy of the attention of the House. What does he say? He invites us—these are his points—To consider this Motion in relation to the whole course, not merely of Parliamentary business in this session, but in any session. And it is because on the broadest principles that I believe there is no course open to us but that which I have adopted that I am now asking the House to adopt it.Then he says—The Parliamentary machine cannot be expected to work smoothly, efficiently, or reasonably, if too great a tax is put upon it.as regards the duration of the session, or the labours of the session. The labours of the session! I have been over twenty years a Member of this House, and I do not think I have ever known a session—I have known many more than twenty sessions—as to which labour could be so little credited. I understand the anxieties of the session, the artifices and manœuvres of the session, the changes in relation to the order of procedure which the Government have submitted to the House. I understand, too, the efforts that Ministers have made, in resistance to our contrary efforts, not to drop the mask behind which they have been hiding themselves on the most important of all questions ever since the session began. That is one of the circumstances that account for the little business that has been done, for the absurdity of speaking of the labours of the session. One cause of the congestion 493 of business of which the light hon. Gentleman speaks, and with which he is endeavouring to cope—one main cause of that has been the constant effort of certain of his colleagues, and I am afraid I must say especially himself, to play hide and seek with Parliament and with the country. Let any of us look back, for example, upon the week that was, not wasted, but diverted from such business as the Licensing Bill to the Scottish Education Bill. I am as much interested in the Scottish Education Bill as any other Scottish Member; it is a very important Bill; but is there a man in the House who will deny that that Bill could have been quite as adequately, if not more adequately, discussed upstairs? No English Members at all, I think, appeared upon the scenes. I charge the Government with this—they come down here and try to pretend that the Parliamentary machine has broken down, that all the old traditions of Parliament in debate are outworn, and yet we know that during that week the time of the House of Commons was withdrawn from objects with which it might well have been occupied, because—it was almost admitted by imputation in an answer to the Leader of the Opposition—because hon. Gentleman opposite, and there may be some on this side, too, for aught I know, needed to have their diversions at Ascot. What a providential thing it is for us that Good-wood and St. Leger do not happen to come in the Parliamentary session.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
I fancy it does, but very late in the session. Things, I see, are less providentially arranged than I had thought. We thoroughly understand, as it is understood on the other side, what are the Prime Minister's reasons for wishing to ring the curtain down upon one of the most squalid political scenes that has ever disfigured our Parliamentary records.
As to the other point, urgency, which has been the other pillar of these guillotine closure Motions. Some reference has been made to the closure procedure upon the Evicted Tenants Bill. I certainly am not going to argue the main question of that Bill. I see the Solicitor- 494 General opposite, and he will correct me if I am wrong. I am perfectly prepared to defend the closure Motion made upon that occasion, not on the grounds that if the Evicted Tenants Bill had not passed Ireland would have got out of hand, and that we should have had widespread and sanguinary disorder; I never said so when I was arguing for the Bill. But there was, and it was admitted by many Gentlemen on that side of the House—there was admittedly an administrative expediency in getting some remedy for the particular social condition in Ireland before the autumn and winter faced us. I will only say that my right hon. friend the Member for Monmouth did not sanction the guillotine closure till 31st July, and if we had not proposed it then, and got that measure, it is my own firm opinion even now, so far as one's opinion is worthy of value upon such a question after ten years interval—if we had not done all we could, including the guillotine closure, to press forward that Motion—that there would have been serious disorder during the coming winter. It was the very fact that we pressed forward the Bill that produced the patience and confidence that kept certain very disturbed districts quiet. In the debate on the closure Motion to that Bill the right hon. Gentleman laid down in very distinct and emphatic language the canon, and I call the attention of the House to it, by which guillotine closure ought to be governed. What were his words?I admit,said the right hon. Gentleman—there may be practical necessities which have to be got over which might justify, or even compel, this House to suspend the right s which for centuries have guarded the liberty of debate. Is this Evicted Tenants Bill one of these cases? Is there some practical, menacing necessity overhanging ns which if not dealt with will impair our whole social system, or the external security of the Empire?I am quite willing to accept that as a canon to be applied to the closure we are now discussing. Will the right hon. Gentleman get up and tell us that there is anything imperilling our whole social system or the external security of the Empire? He cannot make any such contention. We know quite well where the urgency lies, and I make no apology for 495 putting that point. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman said to us—What do you expect to get in exchange for this sacrifice of our dignity and our honour? I will tell you. You expect to get the votes of the Irish Members. The Irish Members expect to go to their constituents and say they did their best to obtain £250,000.We shall get off very cheaply at the present time if this Bill does not cost us more than £250,000. We know quite well what it is that you expect. I will refer to the language used by an ardent supporter of the Government. The language has been heard before, but it is very apposite on the present occasion. It is rather racier, perhaps a little more "vulgar, than one likes even to repeat. This is what was said last year by the president of one of the important licensed victuallers' associations at the annual dinner—I do not think the Government will go against the trade, for we put them in power, and if they treat us properly we will keep them in power, but if they do not we will chuck them out.That is the urgency; and I confess it is painful to me, who am as jealous as other people of the honour of this House and of the honour of British government, to think that such pressure should have produced such a proposal as we are now discussing. Sir Robert Peel, when he was being hunted and harried by the protectionists—just as the protectionists, I understand, are hunting and harrying now—said—I have no desire to be Minister of England, but if I am Minister of England, so long as I hold that post I will hold it by no servile tenure.Can we imagine anyone holding by a tenure more servile than that indicated in the passage I have just read? I have no desire to lecture the right hon. Gentleman; I should be presumptuous if I did; but I cannot help recalling the four occasions prior to 1902 when the guillotine closure was applied. In the first two cases the Leader of the House, Mr. Smith, attended vigiliantly and assiduously, watched the proceedings of the House, and felt his way for a justification for his proposal. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented.] Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that?
MR. JOHN MOELEY
I was in the House in those days, and it seemed to us on this side that Mr. Smith was constantly in the House. I certainly can speak with full authority of Mr. Gladstone's conduct on the Home Rule Bill. We could not persuade him to absent himself for more than an hour or two, and very seldom for one single hour, of those eighty-two long days.
MR. JOHN MOELEY
That is so; but as Prime Minister, as Leader of the House, he would not have felt himself in a position to move so drastic a proposal as we made in 1893 unless he had vigilantly and assiduously watched the whole proceedings in the House and the whole temper and spirit of the House.
What is the case for the application of the broad principle of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke? The House meets in February. In regard to the great Bill of the session, the proper course from his precedent would appear to be not to introduce it until the House has sat for two and a half months, not to move the Second Reading for nearly a month more, and then after three, and only three, effective Parliamentary days to come down with a thundering Motion for a guillotine closure. These are the sort of conditions which the right hon. Gentleman seems to assume justify him in making this drastic and unprecedented proposal. That is the precedent he is setting up with his great authority and great position and by his emphatic and definite language. The right hon. Gentleman's postulates and axioms mean, if they mean anything, when they are properly worked out, the abolition of the Committee stage of a Bill. Nobody in the House has had so large a share for good or for evil in legislation as the right hon. Gentleman. He must agree with me that there are many Bills in which the Committee stage is far more important really than the Second Reading stage. The workmanlike shape of a Bill, its working when it becomes law, depends much more upon the Committee stage than it does upon anything in the Second Reading stage. In his speech last Friday the Prime Minister held quite extraordinary language. He 497 said this Licensing Bill does not contain many novel principles. I wholly dissent. It contains novel principles about the transfer of jurisdiction, about compensation, about the conditions of new licences. These proposals may be good or they may be bad, but they are novel principles. When the right hon. Gentleman says, as he did on Friday, that these principles have been thoroughly threshed out, there again I am bound to dissent from him. I do not think they have been thoroughly threshed out at all. But, be that as it may, I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman can differ from me when I say that the application of the principles of the Bill is not any less important, any less vital, than the mere formal affirmation of the principles themselves. The right hon. Gentleman says—No licences are to be taken away without compensation; you have affirmed that principle, and, having done that, the best thing the House can do is to leave the rest to the draftsman and the Home Secretary.The Home Secretary is a Gentle-m in of whom I will not say one single uncharitable word, but when I am asked if I will take him to be my guide in a nice discrimination among the shades of words, then I confess I am disappointed and I cannot accept that guidance. I cannot consent willingly to the doctrine that the Home Secretary and the draftsman are to supersede the Committee of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman has an ingenious friend who says if we go on debating the Bill on the same scale as we have debated the first clause it will last a year and a quarter. Surely the right hon. Gentleman himself knows very well he has had a great deal too much experience not to know—that the discussions upon the great operative, combative clauses of a Bill are certainly no test of the time that will be taken in carrying the other portions. Just look at the first clause. Apart from the question of division of jurisdiction between quarter sessions and the magistrates, there are other questions of the most supreme importance. The right hon. Gentleman said no important issue need be left undiscussed. Has he thought how many seriously important issues are left in the clause and which do need exhaustive discussion? I use the word "exhaustive"in the fair sense. Would 498 four hours be sufficient for an exhaustive discussion on the question of liability? Yet that is all we shall have if the question comes up on a Friday. There is the question of the desirability of introducing a popular element into the local licensing authority. Many of us eel that that is a vital question, and many in the country, apart from Party politics, think that it is a vital question. Then we come to the question whether a definite reduction in proportion to population or otherwise should be made compulsory. That is another important question in which the country is profoundly interested. There is another point, not so deep as the other two, but still important — the point whether the justices are to be allowed to employ counsel, and to produce witnesses before quarter sessions, in the same way as the licensed victuallers. Surely the idea of dealing with important issues such as these raised on the first clause in six and a half hours is farcical. Look also at Clauses 2 and 3, which are to be disposed of together n six and a half hours. Listen to the opening words of Clause 2—Where quarter sessions refuse the renewal of a licence under this Act, a sum equal to the difference b tween the value of licensed premises, calculated as if this Act had not passed—The Solicitor-General will agree that in these words there is material—if he were in wig and gown—for a speech for an hour's duration or more. Then we come to Clause 3, which deals with the position of the tenant of a tied house under this scheme. The right hon. Gentleman said in his speech, very cavalierly, "Oh, we have discussed the question of the tied house." But does the right hon. Gentleman see that in this third clause are raised a number of disputable questions, which cannot be answered satisfactorily except those in this House of knowledge and experience in local business are allowed to ray what they have to say about them? Recollect that in the same six and a half hours are to be dealt with three Amendments put down by Gentlemen sitting on the other side of the House, the Members for East Somerset, North-west Manchester, and the University of Cambridge — Gentlemen whom we should not suspect of putting down frivolous or 499 obstructive Amendments—which raise the vital question of gradation—that is to say, that after a certain number of years the compensation is to be less than at an early period. What fair or candid man will contend that these are Amendments which ought to be ruled out or to be discussed at the fag end of a six and a half hours discussion? It is perfectly ridiculous. Then we come to Clause 4, which is to have six and a half hours to itself. That clause sets up a completely new licensing system. I do not judge it; I am only describing it. But it undoubtedly revolutionises the whole system of licensing. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking on that point also in a very free-handed way, said—The Bill embodies the principle that new licences shall only be granted under conditions which will prevent a monopoly from growing up, a most important principle upon which there is no division of opinion between the two sides of the House.The right hon. Gentleman takes it for granted that, if there is no division of opinion between the two sides of the House, there is no occasion for discussion. Happily, the value of our discussions do not depend upon the controversial issues which are raised between the two sides of the House. This House exists to mould and shape the legislative proposals which are laid before it. And for the right hon. Gentleman to assume that upon a Bill of this kind the House of Commons, representative though it be of all parties, and full of local experience, cannot contribute anything in a full discussion to make the measure weather-tight, water-tight, is certainly the worst compliment that has ever been paid to the House. I heard the hon. and gallant Member for the Newport Division of Shropshire say on Friday that there was a concerted conspiracy on this side to prevent the fair consideration of the Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has just been appointed to the Privy Council. I can only admonish him that we of the Privy Council never use random and reckless language of that kind. But no doubt he will acquire a more temperate tone of speech in that august assembly. There were able, and eloquent, and powerful speeches delivered from this side of the House on Friday, but the most pungent of all the speeches against the Motion were made on the Government side. The 500 right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Cambridge University made a thoroughly well-weighted contribution to the deeper elements of the discussion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Somerset, a supporter of the Bill, declared that if this Motion be pressed he and his friends will be unable to vote for the Third Reading. Then there is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh, who said he did not like the Bill, but he should vote for it for reasons that were judged to be operative in his own mind, but which were not relevant to the issue. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said he should go into the lobby with the Ministers because he had a mandate to keep in a Unionist Government and to keep out a Separatist Government. The hon. Member for the Altrincham Division declared that it was not with a very happy conscience that he should give his vote for the Motion. The hon. Member further said—and I call the particular attention of the House to this, because I am sure that in the next Parliament the question will be taken up—"the necessity of closuring the Bill was one of the many condemnations they had had of the new Rules of Procedure." I think that is perfectly and absolutely true. If ever there was a Bill that needed to be moulded and shaped by the full discussion of this House it is the Licensing Bill. Half the social questions which interest and perplex social reformers of all shades are touched by our licensing system. Some of the deepest questions that have troubled the administration of local self-government are also touched by changes in the licensing system. If you think of the enormous interest;—I might almost say the unparalleled interest—which at this moment is taken in this measure by the one side and the other on the temperance question, and by all sects, Churches, and parties, you will realise the disgust, the anger, the concern in which they will see that all those points which need minute discussion, and in which they take such deep interest, are to be shut out of the purview of the House of Commons, which is their representative Chamber, and to be settled by the draftsman and the Home Secretary.
501 I will only make one observation the right hon. Gentleman, who, we all know, takes a serious and long-sighted view of the risks of democratic Government. I do not think he will differ from me when I say that no object ought to be more dear to the Legislature than that the people of the country should take an interest in the laws of the country. But if you proceed to change the spirit and the method in which the laws are made, depend upon it you will change the spirit in which the people obey the laws and revere the Parliament which makes them. It is not an accident that alongside of this Bill there is a Bill to be pressed, I understand, called the Defaulting Authorities Bill. If you persist in this line which the right hon. Gentleman foreshadows, of making laws without that full and free discussion which has given the people of this country confidence in the laws, and made the laws respected and obeyed, then you will lose that element in our national life which has made us the most law-abiding of all peoples, and given to our institutions a stability which is possessed by those of no other country. I will conclude by quoting words which the right hon. Gentleman used when we proposed the Evicted Tenants closure Motion— not that it gives me any pleasure to reproduce them, but I think they define the present situation. The right hon. Gentleman said to us sitting there—Indulge in this petty and sordid trafficking for votes if you like, but do not ask us to help you to make the honour and the dignity and the traditions of this House counters in the sorry game you are playing for political support. Do not ask us to take a hand.With those words I close my observations.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said that he and his hon. friends who sat with him representing Ireland in this House, intended to give a solid vote against this Resolution for closure by compartments. In taking that course they followed the unvarying record of the Irish Party. There was no section of Members in that House who had so vital an interest in maintaining the privileges of private Members as the Irish, for the reason that no matter how 502 Governments came and went, and who sat on the Treasury Bench, the Irish Members were always anchored in opposition, a small minority, and therefore it followed that they always opposed anything tending to interfere with the privileges of private Members and the rights of minorities. On this occasion they took this action irrespective altogether of the merits and demerits of this particular Bill. On that there was a difference of opinion in the ranks of the Irish Party. In their ranks were men holding extreme views on both aspects, both as affecting the liquor traffic and temperance reform. Many years ago when Mr. Parnell founded the Nationalist Party and laid down rules for its guidance, he laid down the wise rule that on questions of this kind they should never invoke the power of the Party. He was old enough to remember when that was the rule in English Parties, and he was not sure that by that means the cause of temperance had not been advanced. With regard to these measures dealing with the liquor traffic, some had opposed and some had supported them, but the larger section had taken no part in the voting. He himself had always been in favour of the principle of compensation. More than once he had voted for it. Last year he voted in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for York, and although there were portions of the present Bill: he personally intensely disliked, he voted in favour of the principle of compensation on the Second Reading.
The question of closure by compartments, however, should not be looked at from the narrow point of view of the merits or demerits of the Bill. The Motion had not been proposed as a desperate expedient to meet a desperate crisis in the conduct of the affairs of the House. On the contrary, the Prime Minister put it for-ward as a great principle and a great precedent to be followed in the conduct of the ordinary business of the House in future, and this, to his mind, differentiated the present proposal from any similar Motion ever before the House. In 1887, when closure by compartments was proposed on the Coercion Bill, the Bill had been fifteen days in Committee, and it was.
503 notorious that there was an open declaration by Members for Nationalist constituencies that they would exercise every form of the House to prevent the Bill being passed. On the other hand, the Government claimed that the passage of the Bill was necessary to protect life and property, and secure law and order in Ireland. On the Home Rule Bill of 1893 a similar state of things arose The Bill had been twenty-eight days in Committee, and was opposed by a strong and powerful Opposition, who declared openly that they would exercise every device in their power to prevent its passing. So two years ago on the Education Bill, the Bill had been twenty-eight days in Committee, and there was an Opposition which did not disguise the fact that it intended to use every possible means to defeat the measure. Could it be honestly said that there were now, as then, special circumstances justifying a desperate and special expedient? The real facts were notorious. On several occasions, when the House was ready for a division the Government Whips had put up speakers to postpone a division until their supporters had arrived, [OPPOSITION cheers.] If the Prime Minister could have come to the House, as the Leader of the House on former occasions, and have been able to say, "We have done our best; but here is a Bill which has been obstructed in such a way and so long that unless you allow us to take some extraordinary remedy the will of the majority will be absolutely set at nought by the minority," then there might have been something to say for the Resolution, though its form would still be open to great objection. But the Prime Minister made no such demand. His argument all through his speech was that under the existing system no great measure introduced by any Government, if vigorously opposed, could be passed into law without some such device as closure by compartments. That argument entirely changed the whole character of his demand. They were asked to create a new precedent which would be put into force for all time in the House, namely, to declare that where there were no exceptional circumstances or difficulties, where there was no obstruction, and no crisis, abstract powers should be put in force 504 to close discussion on a measure of the most far-reaching importance.
The Prime Minister stated that under the present system of transacting business there was a very gloomy future before the House of Commons, and that there were only two alternatives, viz., absolute impotence and closure by compartments. Surely such a prospect ought to give pause to every believer in Parliamentary institutions. If the country once came to the conclusion that the House was impotent, that it was unable to transact the legislation brought before it, or to supply an effective check by discussion and had degenerated into a mere talking shop, the House of Commons would receive and would deserve the contempt of the people. It would not occupy a much better position in the eyes of the people and the country generally if it were proved that the only way in which any Government could in the future pass a great measure was by putting a stop to deliberation and suppressing free speech. If it became a regular practice, the House would have ceased to be a deliberative Assembly, and would merely register the decrees of a small number of gentlemen called a Cabinet. The whole raison d'être of the Assembly would have disappeared, and that alternative would be just as fatal to the survival of representative and Parliamentary institutions in this country as the other alternative of impotence to which the Prime Minister had alluded. There was a possibility only hinted at by the right hon. Gentleman of some great statesman in the future being able so to arrange the rules of the House that it would be able to transact its business. But no new Rules of Procedure would cure the disease from which the House was suffering. Since the year 1832 there had been eighteen Committees of the House of Commons deliberating upon new Rules. Again and again reforms had been introduced to facilitate the business of the House, and yet year by year the difficulties had been increasing. In 1902 they had a brand new code of Rules brought in by the right hon. Gentleman himself for the purpose of facilitating business. The House should recollect the circumstances under which those Rules were introduced. They were 505 brought in by probably one of the ablest statesmen England had ever seen, who was surrounded by a galaxy of talent, backed by an unexampled majority, and possessing absolute powers to carry any proposals he chose to bring forward. After mature deliberation a series of new Rules were introduced which, in the words of the Prime Minister—Would leave this House…not merely as a machine for passing legislation, but a free arena in which questions interesting to the country may be discussed.And now, after two years experience, the right hon. Gentleman told the House there were only two alternatives before them—one of absolute impotence and the other closure by compartments.
But a far more serious consideration than the effect of this Motion upon this or that measure was the future of the House of Commons as a deliberative and legislative Assembly. It was amazing to him that he had not heard any speaker go to the root of the matter. The House was attempting an impossible task—a task day by day becoming more impossible under the new conditions that had arisen owing to a variety of causes. It was physically impossible that one legislative Assembly, even if it sat every day in the year, could fulfil the duties of a great Imperial Senate and also the duties of half-a-dozen local Parliaments as well. It was perfectly true that his argument on these procedure questions was always the same, but every session's experience demonstrated the truth and increased the force of his contention. He was not now arguing for Home Rule for Ireland, that question rested upon an entirely different set of considerations; he was trying in all seriousness of spirit to look at the question from the point of view of the House, of a Member of the House of Commons, and of a man who was a believer in Parliamentary institutions, and in all seriousness he declared that the Government were subjecting Parliamentary institutions to a strain they could not stand, and under which they would completely break down if the present course were persisted in. The more coercive proceedings of this kind were proposed, the more they would have to be increased. No more humiliating 506 confession of the breakdown of the Parliamentary machine could have been male than that of the Prime Minister, viz., impotence or the "gag." The closure when first proposed was put forward as a device which would be used only in exceptional circumstances; it was a strong and drastic medicine to be applied only in cases of grave disorder; it had now become a part of the ordinary everyday diet of the House of Commons. So it would be with closure by compartments. For the first time, the House was being asked to adopt this procedure, not to ease the dangers of a special situation, but on general principles to enable the Government to carry a great measure in the face of a vigorous Opposition. In a comparatively short space of time the House would find closure by compartments a part of its ordinary everyday procedure.
Not only the possibility, but the absolute absurdity of the present system was self-evident. The House of Commons was the great Senate of the Empire, governing great Imperial interests of hundreds of millions of people in different parts of the world—an Assembly whose time ought to be devoted to the consideration of questions upon which, perhaps, the peace of the world or the interests of humanity depended; and it was at the same time the local Parliament of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, charged with the duty of legislating for and supervising the administration of the smallest local and comparatively insignificant affairs of each portion of the so-called United Kingdom. The result was lamentable, but it was also ludicrous. At one moment this great Imperial Senate was called upon to discuss questions of Imperial importance affecting the whole Empire, and sometimes the whole civilised world; and then, suddenly, those questions were automatically hung up in order that the same Imperial Senate might discuss the dismissal of a policeman in Ireland or the alleged interference with St. Winifred's Well in Wales. The other day he was visited by a distinguished official from one of the most distant parts of the Empire. This gentleman had been absent from England for many years, and returned filled 507 with the proudest thoughts of the greatness of the Empire. Never having heard a debate in the House of Commons, he asked him (the hon. and learned Member) to secure him a place under the gallery. He entered the House with feelings almost of reverential awe, and then to his amazement he heard the House discussing for an hour and a half how best to deal with bugs and fleas in tenement houses. The position was absolutely ludicrous; it was also very serious. The latest edition of the Rules of Procedure were admitted by this Resolution to have been an absolute failure, and the closure by compartments would degrade, humiliate, and finally destroy. The House of Commons was being gradually suffocated and strangled to death, its only hope was to follow the example of other great nations similarly circumstanced by making a distinction between Imperial and local concerns, and thus affording time for the efficient government of both.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I will not repeat the criticism which I have previously passed upon some of the interventions in our constitutional debates by the hon. Member, for he has referred to that criticism in a very good-humoured spirit; and as to the contention which he has advanced to-day, I do not at all traverse one of the main pillars upon which he has built his thesis—namely, that this House does devote too much time to the details of measures, and thereby to a certain extent loses the sense of proportion and has not enough time to consider the principles of measures. I will point out to the hon. Member that he is in absolute disagreement with an eminent statesman who agrees with him on the subject of Home Rule in advancing that proposition, for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose complains—he did not pretend, he could not pretend, that any great principle underlying this Bill was undiscussed—what he said was that in order to make it a workable measure, in order that it might really carry out the intentions of its framers and of the House, it was necessary that the details should be hammered out on the floor of the House. It is no great interest of mine to knock together the heads of two such eminent persons who evidently, although 508 they are going to vote on the same side, approach this matter from an entirely different standpoint, Home Rulers though they both be. The hon. Gentleman in his defence of the British Constitution seems to me to have forgotten facts in the historic career of himself and the Party which he leads because he told us, unless. I entirely misunderstood his meaning, that he had always opposed Motions of this kind.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
No. I said the the Irish Party had invariably cast their votes against interference with freedom of speech and the rights of private Members of this House. I believe that statement is quite accurate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not wish to put into the hon. Gentleman's words any meaning which he did not intend to put into them himself. But surely he meant the House to understand that closure by compartments was an interference with the freedom of speech and the rights of the House, and so neither he nor his friends could support it; nor had they been found to support it in the past. The hon. Gentleman has forgotten what has taken place. To begin with, he did not vote against the closure by compartments on the Education Bill two years ago.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
None of his-friends did. In the second place, he did vote for the closure by compartments both of the Home Rule Bill and of the Evicted Tenants Bill. I quite understand. I do not complain. The hon. Gentleman, in pursuance of what, no doubt, are perfectly legitimate tactics, desires to support the Opposition in this particular controversy. But do not let him come down to the House and, with an air of Roman virtue, declare that now he is merely carrying out a policy pursued in fair weather and in rainy weather alike by himself and his friends throughout a long period of Parliamentary history. If he goes back to the records of this House he will find that no such case can be made out.
I am sorry that the course which this debate has taken will compel 509 me, in the few minutes which I shall occupy in the reply which courtesy to the House requires me to make, to deal with some accusations which are of a more or less personal character, and are rather on one side of the important proposition which we are asked to discuss to-day. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the debate this afternoon, in a speech of great courtesy, attacked me in a manner which I do not complain of for not having been present all through the debates in Committee on this Bill, his view being that my absence from some of these debates in Committee disqualified me for forming an opinion of the propriety or impropriety of the steps I am now asking the House to adopt. Well, Sir, it is perfectly true that this Bill is not under my personal conduct. As the right hon. Gentleman says, I believe, for good or for evil, I have personally conducted more important measures through this House than any Member of it now living, and the House will admit, I think, that I have never shrunk from the labour of detail which that responsibility throws upon me. But I do not believe that it is in accordance with precedent or in the best interests of this House that it should be understood as a matter of course that the Leader of the House for the time being is to be responsible for all its important Bills. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to my lamented friend Mr. Smith, and said he was present throughout the debates on the Crimes Act. Sir, he was rarely present; he entrusted to me the whole responsibility for the conduct of that measure, and I do not think he thought it necessary to sit through the debates. May I be permitted to make this further addition to what I have said on this subject? Some Members of the House seem to be of opinion that it is in pursuit of some personal leisure that I am absent from this Bench. I can only say that the moments of greatest repose which I have in the course of a somewhat laborious official career are the moments I spend on this Bench. It may not be agreeable to listen to a series of tirades directed either against myself or against the policy of the Government, but it is not fatiguing. If I am not present upon this Bench, I can assure the House that I am invari- 510 ably engaged in matters which, if not of more importance, at all events involve much greater personal labour and exertion. Even as regards this Bill, I may say that I made a speech on the First Reading of it, that I made a speech on the Second Beading, and that I have intervened once or twice while it has been in Committee, and those interventions have been objected to by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Nobody can say I have left this Bill severely alone in the sense, for instance, in which Mr. Smith left to me the sole conduct of the Crimes Act and other large measures of Irish legislation with which, while he was Leader, I was entrusted.
That is perhaps a small matter. But I am afraid there is one other personal point which I cannot leave wholly alone. I have not been merely accused of leaving this Bill without sufficient superintendence, I have been accused, in perfectly unmistakable language, of having had my judgment as regards this Bill entirely perverted by the society which, according to the hon. Member for Spen Valley Division, I have been accustomed to keep. He refers, I understand, to the two or three days in the year which I am sorry to say are all, while in office, that I have been able to give to my constituency. But that minute fragment of the year, according to the hon. Gentleman's judgment, has been enough to corrupt at its source any estimate which I am able to frame upon a question in which licence-holders or brewers may be concerned. Well, Sir, I do not know that the hon. Member's estimate of my judgment is a matter on which I need detain the House, but I deeply regret that he should have thought it desirable in his interests or in anybody's interests to make a personal attack upon me which involved the reputations of two other persons, one of whom has long been dead, and the other of whom is in no sense open to the insinuation or suggestion which the hon. Gentleman, taking advantage of his position in this House, has made against him. He has chosen to attack my present chairman. My present chairman has never made any observation to me directly or indirectly upon this Bill or upon any other question of Governmental policy. I But, in any case, as far as I am aware, 511 his interests are no more affected by this Bill than the interests of the chairman of the hon. Gentleman himself, and I assume that the chairman of the hon. Gentleman is neither a brewer nor a licence-holder. And I must say the case is far worse with reference to the suggestion made by the hon. Member in regard to one who was many years ago my chairman and who was a brewer.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman talked of scandals in my constituency, which can only be interpreted as having reference to a story of which I just heard—
§ MR. WHITTAKER
I was making no reference to that gentleman. I was referring to the scandals in Manchester—the well-known scandals in connection with the watch committee, of which Sir John Marks was chairman, and the police. That is why I referred to the chief constable. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman does not know of them.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I admit I do not closely follow municipal affairs, which have nothing to do with my connection with Manchester.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to attack the Corporation of Manchester or any member of it he is at liberty to do so, but do not let him associate me with matters of that kind. The sincerity of the hon. Gentleman is beyond doubt; of his charity I have seen but few fragments. I think it would be well, I will not say for him, but for his cause, if he could persuade the House or anybody else that what animates him in this matter is not a personal aversion to a trade or to a class, but a desire to carry out that which this Bill will undoubtedly carry out—namely, a great temperance reform. The hon. Gentleman says that we are the slaves of a trade. May I point out to him and to the House that we do conceive that this measure, in addition to 512 all that we have a right to hope from it in the direction of temperance reform, does, in our opinion, do justice to a trade? We have never disguised that, and we believe it; and, what is more, that has been part of the creed of the vast majority of the Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House. If it be true that we are doing justice to a particular trade, are we disgraced because that trade expresses its I desire to see that justice done to it? Can anything be more childish than to suppose that because the licence-holder desires to see this Bill pass—[OPPOSITION] cries of "The brewer.") We will not quarrel. The licence-holder, the brewer, the holders of brewery shares, the insurance companies who hold brewery shares, in which, I daresay, the hon. Gentleman has insured his life—they may all be protected from injustice by this Bill; and why should they not say so, and what disgrace is there if we, holding the view that we are doing them a benefit, should accept these over-statements of their gratitude? The hon. Gentleman talked of our coming to "the crack of the whip." I suppose he meant the votes which this Bill is expected to give to the present holders of office. That sporting metaphor is capable of extension. I could not help looking at the face of the hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Irish Party while the hon. Member for the Spen Valley was speaking, and I thought I saw a faint smile cross his face, probably produced by a reminiscence of the Evicted Tenants Bill, to which I shall refer in a moment, and I thought that, after all, perhaps "the crack of the whip" had been heard before in other quarters. And in a moment of unaccustomed prophecy I looked forward and I thought it not impossible that from the same quarter, and adjusted to the same victims, "the crack of the whip" might be heard at no distant date. [Cheers and some OPPOSITION cries of "When?"] Well, whenever the followers of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Waterford are in the position they were in between the years 1893 and 1895. I do not know that that position will recur, but I think it may; and then the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Spen Valley will have ample experience in illustration of the constitutional position which at present gives him such acute pain.
513 I turn from the hon. Member for Spen Valley to the defenders of the Constitution—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose. I think they can hardly have examined or refreshed their memory with anything connected with the previous incidents which are parallel to this occasion except in giving a most devoted study to the speeches I have made on these occasions. I accuse them of no neglect in that respect, but in every other respect they have really fallen into blunder after blunder. Some of these blunders I will venture to bring to the notice of the House. In the first place the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose has told us that I am the first person and that this is the first occasion on which any such measure has been proposed without making obstruction the chief argument in favour of it. That is a complete delusion. I have not looked up my own speeches on the Education Bill, but I have looked through Mr. Gladstone's speech on the Home Rule Bill and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth, who moved a corresponding Motion to this on the Evicted Tenants Bill, and neither of those statesmen made any nearer reference to obstruction than I have made myself. I pointed out that if progress was to be at this rate the Bill would never be finished. I pointed out, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth pointed out, that the number of Amendments on the Paper was such that it was incredible that in any reasonable time we should be able to dispose of them. The only difference between us was that, while the right hon. Gentleman opposite appealed to twenty-two pages of Amendments, it was my privilege to appeal to sixty-five pages of Amendments. In other words, I had an argument precisely three times as strong as he was able to produce. So much for the first point.
The next accusation made against me, also by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, is that I have devised an entirely new principle to justify this violation of the liberties of the House. I have not put it, he says, 514 on obstruction, but I have put it on the general principle that the House cannot conduct its business if it is required to sit during the length of time which evidently would be required were this Bill to follow its natural course. I agree that that was my main argument, and I also admit that when I used it I was not conscious that I was guilty of plagiarism. But it has been since pointed out to me that precisely that argument, almost in my words, was used by Mr. Gladstone on a precisely similar occasion—that is to say, on the closure of the Home Rule Bill on the 29th of June, 1893. Mr. Gladstone said—We are compelled, by the arrangement of our finances, to regulate our Parliamentary proceedings by the revolution of the year. But, the year containing twelve months, it is obviously impossible for the Members of this House to devote the whole of those twelve months to the direct discharge of their public duties within these walls. The common practice of Parliament has been for the last sixty years, since the passing of the first Reform Act, to devote six months, or perhaps seven months, to the discharge of those duties; and, in assigning to them so large a portion of the year, I believe I may correctly say Parliament has gone beyond what has ever been attempted—beyond what has ever been done by any other deliberative Assembly in the world.That is precisely the general argument which I have used to the House. So much for the new principle which the right hon. Gentleman, far above my merits, credits me with having discovered in defence of the present proposal. But let us go a little closer into this matter. The three defenders of the Constitution to whom I have referred were all responsible both for the closure by compartments on the Home Rule Bill and for the closure by compartments upon the Evicted Tenants Bill. The two charges made against this proceeding are, in the first place, that we are putting on the closure too quickly, and the other is that the closure we desire to put on will exclude the discussion of very important questions; the compartments are too small. I will examine both these propositions in the light of precedent in which the right hon. Gentleman took a leading part. As regards the length of time during which the discussion has gone on, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife talked about x days as 515 having been spent in Committee; but the time taken in the Committee on the Evicted Tenants Bill was only two days. What is the reply to that? The reply made by the other side is that the Evicted Tenants Bill stood by itself, that it was a great measure of public order; and that if it had not been carried through this House, if further delay had been allowed, there would have been crime in the winter and agrarian disorganisation in Ireland for many months. So flimsy a pretext has never, I think, been seriously advanced in this House by responsible statesmen. Let me remind them of some of the dates. They came into office in 1892, but the claims of social order in Ireland are not attempted to be dealt with until 1894. That is nearly three years.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I thought the right hon. Gentleman would remind me of that Commission. It is perfectly true that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends appointed a Commission. It sat and it reported in the spring of 1893—let the House mark the date—while the Home Rule Bill was going on; and I presume t was on the Report of that Commission that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends thought this was a pressing question in connection with public order in Ireland. I do not blame them, even in the interests of public order in Ireland, for not interrupting the discussions on the Home Rule Bill to carry out the Report of the Commission. But what did they do when the Home Rule Bill was kicked out by the House of Lords? Did they then go on with the Evicted Tenants Bill, which was desired so urgently to preserve law and order in Ireland? Not at all. They oocupied six months more of the session—we sat, as the House remembers, to a date in the following year—with the English Parish Councils Bill and other matters, no doubt of considerable parochial importance, but matters which no one can pretend ought to stand in the way of a measure which was really required to preserve law and order in Ireland. That brings me to 1894. And then what did they do about this 516 measure required for law and order in Ireland? We have been told that we have shown an iniquitous disregard for the interests of the House because we only introduced the Licensing Bill on 20th April of this year. I admit that they have the better of us there by fully twenty-four hours, because their Bill for preserving law and order in Ireland was introduced on 19th April. But though we cannot compete with them as to the date of introduction, we really can compete with them as to the ardour and the urgency with which we pursued our policy. We have been reproached on that subject also. We have been told that the House had almost forgotten where they left off with the Licensing Bill, so great was the delay that occurred between the introduction and the later stages of it. We are only now in the very first days of July. When does the House think this urgent measure of law and order, introduced on 19th April was read a second time? Exactly three months after its introduction. Law and order in Ireland had to wait for Welsh Disestablishment, the death duties, and other matters, no doubt of great importance, but of less importance than law and order in Ireland, which had to wait for these three months. And yet we are seriously told that a Bill which was only read a second time on 20th July, some months after the Commission reported, was of such an urgent character that after two days in Committee the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth was justified in coining down and in a speech which in Hansard takes up, I think, a column, and in which law and order does not appear any more than obstruction, or if it appears, scarcely appears—we are told that closure by compartment was absolutely necessary. No, Sir, it was the crack of that whip of which we have heard so much, which produce this immediate necessity for dealing with law and order which would no longer wait, and for which the liberties of debate and the dignity of this House were so readily sacrificed by such ardent supporters of the British Constitution as the Member for Waterford and his friends. So much for the first count in the indictment, which says that we have introduced this closure too early in the proceedings.
517 Now we come to the second count, and I venture to think a much more important count, in the indictment, which says that our compartments are so contrived that nothing like adequate discussion can be found for the questions that remain. [OPPOSITION cheers.] I am surprised after the little historical disquisition I have given to the House that that should be cheered by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am not going through, compartment by compartment, the arrangements made by Mr. Gladstone and the three defenders of the Constitution with regard to the Home Rule Bill, but I will take one co partment as a specimen. It is the week-long compartment, which comprised five Parliamentary days, and was concluded on 13th July. In those five days eighteen clauses were to be discussed; an average of three or three-and-a-quarter a day. What were those clauses? Did they consist of those details which the right hon. Member for Montrose think ought to be so carefully smoothed out, and made watertight and practicable on the floor of the House? I will tell the House what they contained. The first one dealt with the absolutely vital question as to whether the Irish Members in this House were or were not to be allowed to vote upon questions which affected only England, Scotland, or Wales, perhaps the most crucial point in the whole Bill. During the course of those five days in fact I think on the last day but one of the five—and this was the first of eighteen clauses to be embraced in the five days—on the penultimate day of that compartment, it seems almost incredible, but it is the fact, Mr. Gladstone came down and told the House, "We have entirely altered the plan of this Bill." He told the House that, whereas his original idea, the idea which we had discussed for four days, had been to have the Irish Members in this House only for purposes in which Ireland was concerned, he had come to the conclusion after four days debate that they must be included for all purposes. And when he made that declaration there was only one day remaining in the compartment, so we literally had to decide this, which was not detail but a fundamental constitutional principle, under closure in the last day of the compartment. That is not 518 nearly all, because there remained the seventeen other clauses. And what did these seventeen clauses deal with? Details comparable to Clause 3 in this Bill? They dealt with the whole complicated financial proposals of the Bill with regard to the Consolidated Fund, the hereditary revenues, the financial arrangements between Great Britain and Ireland, and with regard to the Irish Consolidated Fund, the local taxation accounts, and money Bills. I do not think I have finished the enumeration, but I think I have said enough. Where were the defenders of the Constitution when that was done? Where was the Member for Wolverhampton, the Member for Fast Fife, the Member for Montrose?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I was on that side of the House. They were cheering on their great Leader; that was their notion of closure by compartments, that was the length of time they thought ought to be given to the details of a Bill. And then they actually come down here and tell us, the very men who thought two days in Committee a sufficient allowance in the case of the Evicted Tenants Bill before closure by compartment was moved, and a compartment of five days long enough in which to discuss eighteen clauses of the character which I have described—these men come down, and, with an indignation which I will not say is mock, but which surely is founded upon a most convenient forgetfulness, they accuse us of having gone too far in this matter. I have been taunted, almost, with not accusing hon. Gentlemen of obstruction. Well, I do not mean to accuse them of obstruction now. They may take it as an accusation or not as they please, I will state a fact which I do not believe a single one of them will deny. It is this—were the House to accept this Amendment, and were the House thereupon to plunge into the sixty-five pages of Amendments already upon the Paper, which, as I said on Friday, are probably mere rude and inadequate sketches of the changes that would be proposed if we went on as we are doing now, I do state as a fact that the Parliamentary 519 machine would break down. I do not believe there is a single man on the other side of the House who doubts it. [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh!"] I go the length, not of saying that they desire in the abstract that the Parliamentary machine should break down, but that they do emphatically desire that it should break down while we have the management of it; they all know it; it is common talk. If it were not common talk, you have only got to look at the Order Paper, and you can see that it is true. And are we to be debarred from taking a proceeding which, compared with what they have done in the past, sinks into absolute insignificance because they are of opinion that the Parliamentary liberties, which have survived the action of Mr. Gladstone on the Home Rule Bill, and have survived the action of the Member for Monmouth on the Evicted Tenants Bill, are now imperilled by the modest proposals we are making? [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh!"] Perhaps not modest absolutely, modest relatively, modest as compared with what a greater generation than we have attempted and carried successfully against resistance. I do not think the contention would stand for a moment. The truth is that if the House decided not to pass this Motion, they will do nothing for their own liberties. The precedents that those Gentlemen, when they come into office, will look back on, are not our precedents on this Bill, they are their own precedents on other Bills. What you would do would be to destroy the chances of the passage of a Bill which I believe in my heart and conscience is going, not only to do justice to a trade, but is going to do more for temperance reform in this country not merely than anything which hon. Gentlemen opposite have done, for they have done nothing in twenty years, but more than anything which their proposals, or any proposals of theirs with which I am acquainted, could have effected if carried into law. I therefore hope that, not merely in the interests of what to me appear the true interests of this great legislative Assembly, but in the interests also of the particular Bill with which we are concerned, the House will, by an overwhelming majority, support us in the action we are taking.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said that the Prime Minister, in making his interesting comparison anent the Home Rule Bill and the Evicted Tenants Bill and this Bill had forgotten the sequel to the Home Rules Bill. That Bill, too, was eighty-foure days in Committee, ten times as long as the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give to the present measure, although he did not think anyone would say that the Home Rule question was ten times more important than the temperance question to the country. The sequel was that the Home Rule Bill, very largely because of the compartment closure, was thrown out by the House of Lords; an appeal was then made to the country, and the country took the same view as had the Opposition of that day. That was a story of some significance for the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to the Evicted Tenants Bill, his withers were unwrung, for he agreed with the then Opposition and did not himself vote for the closure Motion, thinking it a great mistake and a dangerous precedent which trenched on the liberties of Parliament, and what happened afterwards justified his action. He agreed that each case must be taken on its merits. But in the case of the Evicted Tenants Bill, a proposal merely to spend £250,000—wisely or unwisely—upon the settlement of a vexed question in Ireland was not to be compared for one moment in matter and magnitude to the proposals in the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman.
Take each case, said the right hon. Gentleman, on its merits; but had the right hon. Gentleman taken the present case on its merits? What he had done was to evolve a fantastic theory about the allocation of Parliamentary time. It was a most preposterous theory that legislation must go through without criticism. The Home Rule Bill had been discussed in the country for six years, and came before the House as the result of a mandate. What about the present proposals? The right hon. Gentleman rather scoffed at a mandate. He would not argue that the House of Commons had no right to pass any Bill unless the subject matter had been the subject of 521 consideration before the House was elected. That was not the point here. The point here was not a constitutional point, but a point of honour. If the leaders of a Party went to the country and said to the electors, "You are asked to settle one question, and you are not asked to express any opinion on other questions," deliberately, with a view to procuring the votes of men who disagreed with them, it might not be a breach of the Constitution to break that pledge, but every man of honour would respect it. If before a general election the country had been thrashing out all the objections to a question, and then came to the conclusion that despite the difficulties which existed it would try the experiment, and if the Opposition afterwards proceeded to raise the same criticisms ad infinitum, with a view to destroying the Bill, surely, in that case the decision of the country would be an element in considering the amount of time to be given to the discussion. But in this case the question was not considered; it was brushed aside. More than that. Whenever proposals of this character were advanced in previous Parliaments the protest in the country was so strong that the Government of the day were obliged to respect the feelings of the country and drop their proposals. Yet, these proposals were introduced now merely as a result of pressure from a section of the right hon. Gentleman's own Party. That was the condition of the matter.
There was another ground on which the guillotine might be introduced and that was the ground of emergency. He would not deal with that. He had voted for the guillotine before, and might vote for it again; but it was nevertheless a crude and barbarous method of dealing with a difficulty which, he agreed with the hon. Member for Waterford, could never be dealt with until they had devolved matters of detail on local assemblies. As long, however, as this Parliament decided to retain all matters great and small there must be something of the kind. But they should consider the importance and difficulty of the question to be dealt with. There was no question more important or more difficult; or no question with reference to which a blunder would more 522 seriously affect the well-being of the people than the question of temperance legislation. It affected millions of households; touched the habits of the people; and it was a question which had brought miseryandruin to hundreds and thousands of homes. What question could Parliament consider better than that? The right hon. Gentleman referred to the evils connected with the Beerhouses Act of 1869; bit that Act was passed without consideration, and in a moment of hurry. That Act had brought untold evilson the country and surely that should be a warning to them. Had the Government considered this question candidly and sincerely on its merits, or had they been animated by other considerations? Had they considered it from the point of view of Party difficulties, and with a view of prolonging their own official life? If they had, such a thing would be an act of treason to the free institutions of this country. What was the position? The Prime Minister, when he introduced the Motion, proved that he had not really considered the whole of his own Bill in relation to this Motion. He enumerated four questions which had, he said, already been adopted in Committee. They were the basis of compensation, tied houses, and time limit, and new licences. Two out of those questions had never even been reached, and yet the right hon. Gentleman did not know it.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said he was certain he had not. The right hon. Gentleman said those questions had already been debated.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I was perfectly aware that Clause 4 is the clause which deals with future licences, and of course we have not reached that; but it has been referred to and the general principle of it. I thought it was a matter of common agreement.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that the question was whether it had been debated and surely that was most important. His hon. friend the Member for the Spen Valley had stated the case very moderately when he said that Clauses 2 and 3 523 were to receive half a day each. They had three and a quarter hours for each clause. The cardinal questions inside the two clauses which must still be debated, were the question that it should be left to the discretion of the justices to decide the compensation, the bass of compensation, the question of whether retail or wholesale profits should come into the computation (a provision affecting 85 per cent. of the public-houses in the country and which would double the amount of compensation)—the question of who was to receive the compensation, the question of what proportion, the question of who was to make the valuation, and the question raised by the hon. Member for the Brightside Division. Surely they trust get a division on these questions, because it was right that the country should know how every Member voted upon those questions. That left one and three quarter hours to debate seven cardinal propositions, about fifteen minutes to each proposition, surely that was reducing the House of Commons to a perfect farce as far as discussion was concerned. But they all knew why it was done. The discussion about the division between the brewer and the publican came at the end of the clause when it could not now be raised. It was a question which the Government did not want discussed, naturally. But the Government had not considered it from that point of view, they were simply looking at the Parliamentary situation. The Prime Minister had to drop the Budget. He came back to the brewers, and there was a little bit of sugar in that so it fermented a little. There was a contrast between last week and this week. When the Budget was on the business was "flat, stale, and unprofitable," but last week they were fermenting in the brewers' mash tub. They had lost the confidence of the country. The one question the country was interested in at the present moment was when the Government was going to take its "off-licence." By-election after by-election had gone against them in spite of every effort and every manœuvre. They actually threw over the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham as a sort of Jonah to pacify the storm, but still the waves were just as high. That was what the Standardsaid. The 524 Standard was of opinion that they had not drowned him but merely ducked him, and that he was still lurking somewhere near the steering gear, but still the storm was raging. They had the country against them and they were merely keeping things going until something cropped up and they could put their fiscal reform scheme upon the market. The market was depressed. In the language of the Stock Exchange protection had weakened in sympathy with slavery. Because the country had no confidence in the Government, the representatives of the country in this House were to lose their right to criticise this measure. That was the real position.
If the right hon. Gentleman had a Parliamentary majority in which he had confidence this was not a thing that he would propose to the House of Commons. It was because he had no confidence in them that he was going to force this Bill through without giving the House an opportunity of properly considering it. It was because the Government had made up their minds to stick to office through thick and thin. The right hon. Gentleman had been very hard on those whose weakness was drunkenness, but he ought to be a little more tender to the weaknesses of human nature. They did not all lie in the same direction. With some it was drunkenness; with others it was office. But it was the business of the House to closely watch these things. This House had to see that things of this sort were not done to create evil precedents; to rush through Bills monstrous in themselves, without the House of Commons holding a firm grasp on them and doing something in order to improve them by way of Amendments. What was the urgency for this? It could not be the Budget, because there was not very much of that left. Was it the Army? There was no hurry there at all. The right hon. Gentleman was putting it through from time to time. He had a mandate there. The country expected him to deal with it; the War Minister said it was the most urgent problem of the moment, but the right hon. Gentleman, the head of the Defence Committee—a Committee charged with the defence of the Empire—who had been heralded as the greatest strategist 525 since the Duke of Wellington, said there was no hurry, and he had laid aside the sword in order to turn the spigot. It was not the Army. Then it must be the Welsh Coercion Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said there were two contentious measures they must push forward this session, this and the Welsh Coercion Bill, or the Defaulting Authorities Bill as it was called. What was the urgency there? Again, the urgency there was not a social but a political one—a Party one. The Bishops were in arms against the Licensing Bill, and the Prime Minister gently hinted that he had a spiteful little Bill against the Welsh Nonconformists which he would give to them if they were good boys. They had all come to the conclusion that this was a pernicious Bill, greatly affecting the material and moral welfare of their flock. But the Prime Minister said, "Never mind"—that he would give them something in return; that he would hand over the Welsh county councils to them. The whole thing was tainted with corruption from the beginning to end. When the Prime Minister replied to the charge of the hon. Member for the Spen Valley that ha was coming to heel at the crack of the whip, he did not deny it.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
The right hon. Gentleman denied that, but not in a very enthusiastic way, with his eyes closed. How could he deny it? When did he first say he was going to bring in a Bill of some sort? After the Rye and Woolwich elections; after the brewers had said, to quote the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, "You have got to do it, or we will chuck you out." It was the policy of retaliation. That was no doubt where the right hon. Gentleman got his idea of the big revolver. This was purely and simply a matter of bribery and corruption. The Bill was not brought forward in the public interest, or because it was of great social urgency. It was considered as a property—as a matter of electioneering. The Prime Minister said to himself, "I may have offended every man who would like to see the business of the country transacted in an 526 efficient way; I may have alienated all those who do not like to see the resources of the country squandered; I may have hurt the consciences of those who at any rate like a policy to be put in straights forward language; I may have alienated all the moral forces of the land by a Bill of this sort. But in time to come I shall have one friend by me, and my Government will stagger to the polls arm in arm with the assistance of the trade"—a trade which, in the opinion of the great Judges of the land, had filled our gaols with criminals and our asylums with lunatics, and which, in the opinion of every expert in social reform, had increased and deepened the degradation and distress of hundreds and thousands of the people.
§ MR. MIDDLEMORE (Birmingham, N.)
said the Prime Minister's proposal had placed some of the moderate temperance men who occupied seats behind the right hon. Gentleman in a position of considerable difficulty, and they were in doubt whether upon this question they could support the Government. They thought the Motion for closure was premature; and that there were matters in the Bill which required, but would be excluded from, discussion; and, finally, in view of the treatment which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Devonshire and some of his supporters—of whom he was one—received last Wednesday, he thought they had a right to enter a protest. As to the treatment of which he had spoken, he recalled that on Wednesday the Solicitor-General explained certain words in the first clause of the Bill, and if his exposition was correct, the right hon. Gentleman carried with him the sentiment of almost everyone on the Government side of the House, and of a very large number of Members of the Opposition. But there arose a difference of opinion upon the point among many high legal authorities, and it was alleged that the Courts of Law would put a different construction to that which the Solicitor-General placed upon the clause unless its wording were amended.
§ MR. MIDDLEMORE
I was anxious to explain my position, Mr. Speaker, and if you will allow me to say one word more, and only one, I think it could be done. After the Solicitor-General had consented to amend the phraseology, the Prime Minister declined to accept any Amendment, and many hon. Members felt that they wee unreasonably dealt with by such action.
§ MR. MIDDLEMORE
expressed regret that he had erred so much, and said he would not refer again to the topic which had been ruled out of order. There was a question of confiscation—confiscation of the rights of private Members. He thought it was quite clear that there would be no confiscation if there were no obstruction. Between obstruction and the means of overcoming obstruction, it seemed to him that the rights of private Members were likely to pass away. If those rights were snatched away they must certainly pass to the Cabinet. Unless there was some process of dealing with the legislation of the country and doing something to relieve the Government of responsibility for it, he could not see how the House could, for a generation longer, remain an independent body. The time might come when it would be a breach of faith for a Member to vote against the Government representing the Party to which he belonged, just as it was now for a member of the American Federal College to vote against his Party. He would not wish to be a Member of the House on such despicable terms. While freedom was left to him, he would venture, at any rate on this occasion, to vote against a Government which he was most anxious to support on Unionist, Imperialist, and fiscal questions.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)
thought the prime Minister was hardly justified in claiming to have given more notice of this Resolution than had been given on former occasions. On Wednesday night he mentioned, in a nonchalant manner, that he intended to bring forward a Motion to accelerate the Licensing Bill. In consequence of the right hon. Gentleman's new- 528 fangled rules of procedure, Thursday and Friday were practically dies non, as Thursdays were devoted to Supply, and Fridays were, to a large extent, given to private Members' Bills, and Members had, in consequence, become, to a much larger extent than was formerly the case, "week-enders." A notice therefore only appearing in Thursday's Paper for such important business on Friday was therefore rather sharp. He would probably not be doing the right hon. Gentleman any injustice if he stated that the Prime Minister's expectation was to get the Resolution through on Friday without much discussion, but by this time he had probably discovered that the Motion was regarded by the House in a very serious light. Personally, he agreed that one or two of the precedents set by Liberal Governments in this matter were not very good ones, and certainly some of the measures which had eventuated from such drastic proceedings did not go to justify the procedure. Many of the provisions of the Crimes Act of 1887 were dropped before the election of 1892, while the Education Act of 1902 was producing altogether unfo eseen consequences, and would have to be altered from top to bottom. But every one of these cases must be considered on its merits. The Prime Minister had not based his case on the usual grounds at all; in fact his speech dealt with so many matters that it alone in the olden days would have afforded matter for six Or seven days discussion. He had referred to the Budget, for instance, as uncontroversial. There never was a year in which the Budget required to be more closely scrutinised; and it was not at all certain that it had escaped the taint of recent fiscal controversies.
The right hon. Gentleman had admitted in specific terms that his Motion did contract the liberties of the House and had argued that if it were not passed the House of Commons would become a wholly impotent Assembly. A bad workman always complained of his tools. Never had any Leader of the House less reason to complain of the forms of procedure or of the conduct of the Opposition than the present Prime Minister. There had been so many alterations in the Standing Orders that Members sometimes hardly 529 knew where they were. The whole aim of those alterations had been to fetter Members and fritter away the control of the House of Commons over the executive Government. He wondered sometimes what was the idea of the supporters of the Government of the House of Commons? Did they really regard it as a deliberative Assembly? One would fancy that their only idea of their duties was to come down and register the decrees of the Government without debate, without question, without consideration. One hon. Member actually asked the other day whether it was in order to attack a Cabinet Minister. Good heavens! What were Ministers there for but to be criticised and attacked? The enormous change that had taken place in the relation of the House of Commons to the Government, of the day even in his own time could hardly be imagined. Up to quite recently, for instance the Government had by Standing Orders, only control of two out of every five hours during which the House sat. It was now, so far as the other side of the House was concerned, simply a machine to register the decrees and wishes of the Government. It was a striking fact that in the days when the greatest legislation was passed through Parliament the Government had the least control of the time of the House. Now, although he had remodelled the Rules and had a large majority at his back, impatient of debate and quite ready to vote for anything, the right hon. Gentleman came forward and confessed himself impotent. The House would never perform its proper function until it adopted some well-matured system of devolution and delegation of its powers. Where the Prime Minister had erred was that in the general conduct of the business of the House, and more especially during the present session, he had failed to recognise that the House of Commons, after all, had in it a great deal of human nature He relied too much upon rules and the particular hour of the clock. That was contrary to the old spirit of the proceedings in the House of Commons. Anyone who took up the Standing Orders of the House would at once see the nature of the Prime Minister's management of the business. Standing 530 Order No. 18 was still unfinished, and in its present form it was unmitigated nonsense and a positive discredit to the Government. But it marked in a most striking way the slatternly way in which the business was conducted by the right hon. Gentleman. During two or three days before Easter the House hardly knew what it was going to do. The House sat for forty-seven days before the Licensing Bill was introduced; sixty-four days of the session elapsed before the Second Reading was taken, and seventy-four days passed before the Committee stage was reached. No instance could be given of so much time being allowed to run by before a first-class Government measure was introduced and dealt with. Constant alterations and postponements and substitutions had taken place, and in regard to the whole conduct of the business of the House there had been a chopping and changing annoying to the last degree to hon. Members who desired to discharge their Parliamentary duties conscientiously. They all knew that the reason for all this was that the Government could not make up their minds until the last moment.
As to the conduct of the Licensing Bill, he did not think the Prime Minister had been quite fair to the Home Secretary, who had been given three hours hard labour upstairs for three days a week upon another measure which he would never carry—the Aliens Bill. With regard to the part taken by the Solicitor-General in the discussions upon this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman was not an Englishman, and they ought to have had representing the Government somebody who had been au courant with the current of temperance reform in this country. In his opinion the First Lord of the Treasury committed a solecism and an offence against the House by coming in late during the disccusion on Wednesday last and putting his foot down upon a common agreement which had almost been arrived at on both sides of the House. When this interference took place, the debate had been conducted with terse argumentative speeches which manifested a real desire to get at the root of the matter, and that was the state of things last Wednesday when 531 the Prime Minister hurried in and put his foot down upon the whole thing. The flourishing of these sixty-five pages of, Amendments by the Prime Minister was a little unworthy of him, because hon. Members knew that these Amendments vanished like snow when the governing principles had been disposed of and many of the Amendments were duplicates. But they had had something else this session besides the general mismanagement and nonchalance of the Prime Minister, for there had been a certain slackness in attendance on this and other Bills of hon. Gentleman opposite. [MINISTERIAL cries of "No, no!"] Upon what, however, did the authority of the House rest? Surely the representative principle. From that point of view the authority of the Government was slipping away. The Standard of that morning said, referring to the Sowerby election—The figures are disappointing. The lesson is unmistakable. It testifies beyond all reasonable doubt to the unwelcome truth that the Government have lost and continue to lose ground throughout the country.He put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether the time had not almost arrived when self-respecting men ought no longer to refrain from taking the judgment o the country. Knowing as he did that individually those sitting on the Treasury Bench were honourable English gentlemen he was astonished that collectively they could remain Ministers for a single mo rent after the evidence of by-elections—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is going a little too far in discussing the general position of the attitude of the Government with regard to all these measures.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS
said the petitions presented to the House testified to the overwhelming opinion of the country against the Bill. Meetings of opponents of the measure had been held all over the country; but it had been found impossible to get a meeting in its favour. There was this volume of opinion against the Bill because it was perceived by those great social and religious elements which existed in our midst, and ware the salva- 532 tion and life of this country, that this Bill struck against moral and social reform. The great army of workers in those causes were to a man opposed to the Bill. He listened with pain to the callous words which the Prime Minister let fall about those who suffered from this great evil, "those people are ruined by their gross and criminal indulgence." The Prime Minister had no pity for the drunkard, or word of sympathy for the widow and orphan. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh!"] From the Treasury Bench the word justice was applied solely to a particular trade, and not in any way to its fruits or its victims. What was to his mind the most shocking and astounding element of the whole situation was that that Bill marked the high-water mark of that era of materialism upon which we had entered. It was because the people were a God-fearing people [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh" and "Order!"], that with a sure instinct they had perceived the real tendency of this Bill. It was because—giving credit to every hon. Member opposite for holding the opposite opinion with sincerity—he was satisfied the Resolution was brought in and pressed on with a view of passing an evil measure, that it would meet with his unmitigated opposition. Hon. Members opposite might rest assured that the Opposition repudiated this Bill from top to bottom, and if it was carried, especially in the way proposed, they washed their hands of it, and on the first opportunity that came to them, and come it would, sooner or later—and he earnestly hoped sooner—this Bill would be effaced from the Statute-book.
§ MR. TRITTON (Lambeth, Norwood)
said he would not attempt to follow the last speaker beyond thanking him for the lesson he had read to hon. Members on that side, which no doubt would be most thankfully received by all the Members of the Party, as to the slackness of their attendance in the debates. He ventured to hope that those remarks would lead to what no doubt the hon. Member intended, namely, better attendance in future. He wished to make a personal statement, instead of giving a silent vote on this question, which he regarded as one of very great magnitude. It was a question in which he was most deeply 533 interested. He was one of those who had not voted for the Second Reading of the Bill. He was one of those who voted against the Government and in favour of a fourteen years time limit, because he believed with all his heart that a time limit was most necessary in this Bill. He objected to the turning of a licence into a vested interest. He had voted on several other occasions against the Government, and he supposed that before the end of the chapter he would find occasion to do so again. Holding these views, it had been his determination to vote against the Resolution now before the House. Things had occurred which had completely altered that determination, and the thing that weighed with him more than anything else was the speech which was delivered earlier in this discussion by the hon. Member for the Spen Valley Division. The hon. Member was regarded, and rightly regarded, as one of the leaders of the temperance party; he had long been a standard bearer; anl he had done most excellent work in the temperance cause throughout the country. The hon. Member was invaluable on the Royal Commission, and having enjoyed his personal friendship for many years he would understand that if he said anything adverse about him he said it with great reluctance. He hoped he would say nothing that would cause the hon. Member any pain. He confessed that when he heard the speech of the hon. Member he was filled with more indignation than he had ever felt on any subject during the twelve years he had been a Member of this House. He ventured to say that that speech was unworthy of the hon. Member. It was unlike his own self. He thought the hon. Member had been carried away by those about him and led to say rather more than he was inclined to say. He thought that speech had done harm to the temperance cause. He did not think the temperance cause was advanced by intemperate language, and the attack on the Prime Minister was one which would be resented by many temperance people throughout the country. He wished the hon. Member to understand what the effect of that speech had been on him. It would lead him not to vote with the hon. Member in the lobby into which he 534 would go, but in the Government lobby. There was no states man living or dead who had ever sat on the front bench who had done so much for the temperance cause as the Prim Minister. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh, but would they tell him who was the statesman? He called for an answer. Would they tell him who the statesman was There was an Act now on the Statute-book of this country which had done, was doing, and in future would do, an enormous amount of good to save the rising generation from the evils of strong drink. How did that Bill get through. He thought he had as good a right to speak on this subject as any one else. It never would have got through but for the Prime Minister who gave facilities for its being passed. It was to the credit of the Prime Minister that that Bill was passed—a Bill which was doing so much good for the children of the land. Who brought in the Licensing Bill of 1902? Who brought in the Scotch Licensing Bill of 1903? Hon. Members opposite had not told him who had done more than the present occupants of the Treasury Bench for the cause of temperance. He challenged hon. Members to say who had done more in that cause than the right hon. Gentleman. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman was not in his place at the present moment because he was going to make an earnest appeal to him. He himself thought it was premature to bring forward the Resolution now before the House. He thought the Prime Minister had not given sufficient time for the discussion of this most important measure. Great issues were dependent upon it. He was going to ask the Prime Minister, if not too late now, to be a little more generous and to give a few more days for the Committee stage and the report stage. There were many hon. Members on the Government side of the House who would agree with him when he said that they had been treated in a niggardly way. The Prime Minister might have given them more time for the discussion of the measure. He had thought it right to state the reasons which had led him to support he Resolution and to dissociate himself entirely from the attack on the Prime Minister. In making this protest as a temperance man 535 and a moderate speaker he thought he had not in any way departed from the courtesies of debate.
§ MR. MOULTON (Cornwall, Launceston)
said he hoped the House would not suppose he was the less hearty in his support of the Amendment if he began his remarks by saying that he thought in this matter every Member of the House was now not in a Party but in a judicial position. They were not discussing what legislation was to be. They were discussing what the privileges of the House for discussing legislation were to be. He had before pointed out that the Rules of the House which govern procedure were rules to protect the weak. They were like the Rules of a game. It should be a matter of honour with each individual Member not to interfere with the sanctity of those rules which were to protect him when he was in a minority. In this case there were only two questions to be considered. The first was raised by the tons of the Prime Minister in bringing this Resolution before the House. The right hon. Gentleman brought it forward in a way which intimated that he looked upon this form of closure as an ordinary feature of Parliamentary procedure, and having said that there was but a short time left of the session, he sat down with the air of one who had said enough to justify his proposal without giving any grounds based upon the nature of the Bill, or the seriousness of the occasion, for using this particular remedy. This raised the first question on which they had to decide, viz.—"Are we going to admit closure by compartments as an ordinary Parliamentary procedure, to be used by the Leader of the majority of the House as and when he pleased? If they were prepared to do this let it be done, but do not let the present majority do it in respect of particular measures before it was made the Rule of the House. If they abused their power in this respect they were in this dilemma: either the other side would retaliate, and Parliamentary procedure would be thereby lowered, or the other side would not retaliate because they had a keener sense of Parliamentary honour than those who now formed the majority. He thought that hon. Members on the other side would feel that each of these alterna- 536 tives was one that they did not willingly associate themselves with.
He would consider for a whether it would be desirable closure by compartments a ordinary Parliamentary procedure. It was a necessary part of our procedure in Committee that Amendments should be taken in strict verbal order and that during the discussion upon each Amendment speakers should be confined to that which was thus before the House, and should be forbidden to refer to subsequent Amendments even though they were far more important. It followed that if the total length of the discussion were fixed, the necessary discussion on the earlier Amendments left the later ones without the possibility of any debate or criticism. A Minister could thus by the use of closure by compartments shield any portion of the machinery of a Bill from open criticism on the floor of the House. They were not allowed to discuss the details of a Bill when they were discussing the Second Reading. This was natural because a roving discussion of the details of a Bill would lessen the value of the debate on its principle. Yet they were going to allow a Minister so to mould the time for point by point criticism of the Bill that much of it would pass without being examined at all. It made it a matter of haphazard what was to be discussed at all, and a Minister would be enabled to shield what might be most important in the machinery entirely from Parliamentary criticism. Let him give an example from the Bill. So far as the broad principle of the Bill was concerned to establish compensation by equalising the loss of a licence over the trade, he thought that principle had supporters on both sides of the House. But it was the way in which it was done, and still more the indirect consequences of the machinery by which it was done that made it a cloak for largely increasing the value of the licensed houses, and handing over this huge property to the brewers and the licence-holders. It was that which they, on that side of the House, most strongly opposed; because they felt that it would cripple the cause of temperance in the future. This great evil lurked in what might be called the detailed arrangement of the Bill—the objects of the Bill—and 537 not in the principle of giving compensation from the trade. They believed that these so called details were the main object of the Bill, and that so far as the aims of its authors were concerned the Bill would become more valuable for the object in view if everything connected with the machinery broke down.
The second question was whether, if the procedure was to remain an exceptional one the present Bill was an occasion when it should be resorted to. He had listened to nine-tenths of the debate, had he had not heard a shadow of a case made oat for applying this procedure in the case of this particular Bill. The only argument of the Prime Minister was that six and a half months was the full Parliamentary time at the disposal of the House; but did the Prime Minister say that it was a hard and fast necessity that the House should rise on the 9th or 12th August, and that they could not sit for a week later to discuss the machinery of a Bill on which the whole licensing system of England depended? Was that consideration to override all public welfare? This was not a case like that of the Home Rule Bill, when over eighty days were taken up with discussion; but only a question of a week or a fortnight more—which short period would not have been required if there had been a proper economy of Parliamentary time at the beginning of the session. Could it be suggested that the House must necessarily rise in the beginning of August? If so, that was a short and easy method for getting important Bills through without discussion. The Government might introduce at the beginning of the session Dog Bills and other petty measures, and put off their more important Bills till a late period of the Parliamentary year, and then say that there was to be no detailed criticism of them. This surrender of the rights of criticism and discussion by the whole House was not in the interest even of the Bills brought forward by the Government themselves. It deprived them of all moral claim to respect by subsequent Parliaments. And it was in truth the individual members of the Party who were the cause of such steps being taken. Their disapproval would prevent the Government having resource to such measures. He knew the humorous exaggeration of the hon. Member for North 538 Armagh, who said that he was sent there to keep the Unionist Government in power, whether they were right or wrong—that that was all his duty. They knew perfectly well that the hon. and gallant Member did not really mean that he felt himself free to act otherwise than honourably, but the profession of such sentiments weakened the moral hold which the members of the Party had on the Government, and which might have prevented this Motion ever being brought forward. What he claimed was, that the Government should know that a Motion like this, unless justified in the eyes of an impartial tribunal, would not receive favour from even the right hon. Gentleman's own side. He was sure there never was a Bill more stamped with all that should make hon. Members shrink from shielding it from public criticism. It was professedly a Bill to alter the existing state of things in favour of a private body of people. Beyond question these licences had been granted under safeguards which were now proposed to be removed. Speaker after speaker had admitted that the existence of the present powers of the licensing magistrates had greatly diminished the value of the licences.
§ MR. MOULTON
said he only meant to demonstrate that this was a type of Bill which ought not to be dealt with in the manner proposed by the Resolution of the Prime Minister. He would begin at the other end. What circumstances would warrant such a procedure? If a Bill was of an urgent character, if it was one on which public order depended, and the time at the disposal of the House would not suffice for its minute criticism, it might be necessary that Parliament should say "We should rather have it in the rough than not at all." But no such circumstances existed here. Deliberate misconduct or obstruction on the part of the Opposition Party, paralysing by means of the forms of the House the realities which underlay those forms, might give a moral justification for applying the drastic Motion proposed by the Prime Minister. But he thought 539 it was conceded by everybody that there had been no obstruction. The Prime Minister would not suggest that there had been obstruction, If he had suggested it the evidence of those who had been present throughout the debates would have pointed to a very different verdict. Nobody pretended that there had been obstruction. So that there was no justification for the closure on that ground. There might be other imaginable causes for such a Motion. A strong mandate might have been given from the country; the House might have been elected ad hoc to pass a particular Bill, and if there was delay in passing the measure it might have been said that the House was culpable because they were over-riding the wishes of the people. But he would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister if he could say, in his heart, that he was voicing the opinion of the country? If the right hon. Gentleman were to look at the question impartially, he would be obliged to admit that the country had repeatedly, by the results of recent elections, and by every method by which it could express its opinion, shown that it was against this change. Again, the character of this Bill was such that the Government ought itself to shrink from applying this Motion. It was unquestionably a Bill in favour of a great organisation—probably the most powerful—of the supporters of the Government. He did not for a moment say that devotion to temperance was confined to that side of the House. He believed that some of the most ardent workers in the temperance cause were to be found on the Ministerial Benches. But there were two facts to which they could not shut their eyes. One was, that the curse of England was drink; and the other was, that the main support of the Unionist Party was the drink trade. This Bill was a Bill in favour of that great and powerful body. He asked every hon. Member opposite who was in favour of temperance reform to examine themselves closely, and see whether by the proposal of the Prime Minister the desire was not only to support Party ends, but to deprive them, as well as the Opposition, of the rights and privileges of Parliament. He was sure that if this House were going to maintain its 540 liberties, dignity, and authority on questions of procedure, hon. Gentlemen opposite must tell their leaders that they ought not to allow the use of their majority to prevent the full examination of measures brought before the House and thus to override the rights of the minority.
§ SIR CARNE RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)
said he had some sympathy with the hon. Member for the Spen Valley and other hon. Gentlemen opposite who desired to make drunken people sober by keeping sober people thirsty. He, however, regretted that the Prime Minister had had to closure this interesting Bill by compartments. Hon. Members on both sides, however, had brought that state of things on themselves. They could not have it both ways. If they spoke in an unlimited fashion on every subject under the sun from February to June, they could hardly expect to luxuriate in long speeches from June to August. It all arose from long speeches. To use an ordinary simile, it was impossible to put a quart into a pint pot. It was because speeches were so inordinately long that the present state of affairs had arisen. He had been in constant attendance at the House during the discussion on the Licensing Bill. He did not trouble the House with any trivial views of his own, but he might say now that he did not think that the long speeches which had been delivered were entirely the fault of hon. Members. He noticed in connection with this particular Bill that when an hon. Gentleman spoke for ten minutes, he found next morning that the newspapers said, "After a few remarks from Mr. A—" or perhaps his name was omitted altogether. On the other hand, an hon. Gentleman who spoke for fifty or sixty minutes and said everything that everyone else had already said, found himself credited with three-quarters of a column. Mr. A's constitutents might say they would have to get rid of him, and the result was that he spoke longer, whereas Mr. B's speeches never came to an end. With reference to the matter under discussion he would venture to say that the only reason why the Prime Minister was obliged to apply a leaf out 541 of Mr. Gladstone's book to this interesting Bill was on account of long speeches.
§ MR. J. H. LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
said that there was one aspect of the question which had not yet received attention. He wished to refer to the way in which the Principality of Wales was to be treated. The question whether Wales was to be included or excluded would in the ordinary way be discussed on Clause 9; but it would be impossible that the clause could be discussed if the Motion were carried. Before Clause 9 could be considered a number of varied and important questions would have to be discussed. Where, therefore, could the Welsh Members have an opportunity of urging that Wales should be excluded from the operation of the Act. A great deal had been said during the discussions on the Bill as to a mandate for it not being given in the case of England. No such question could possibly arise in the case of Wales. For thirty-six years Wales hid given over whelming majorities in favour of temperance legislation. The present Bill was a death blow to temperance in Wales. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to give the Welsh Members some opportunity of discussing this question. When any great contentious measure was brought forward the application of the Bill to Wales was always put in the last clause, and it was impossible for the Welsh Members to properly discuss the propriety of excluding Wales from the scope of the Bill when closure by compartments was applied. Wales had a special and exceptional position in this matter. It had been dealt with exceptionally by Parliament as regards temperance reform. When the Welsh Local Veto Bill was before the House of Commons it was remarkable that twenty-five Welsh Members voted for it and only one against it. That was an indication of the position of Wales in regard to this great question. Therefore, it would be wise for the right hon. Gentleman to give an opportunity to the Welsh Members to discuss whether Wales should or should not be excluded. The right hon. Gentleman refused that in the case of the Education Bill, and the result was that he now had to bring in a coercion Bill 542 This trampling on a small nationality really did not pay the Government in the end. Wales was a small country, but it had a right to be heard on this question, which vitally affected its well-being.
§ SIR J. STIRLING-MAXWELL (Glasgow, College)
said the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite made it very difficult to agree with their conclusions, yet, although he was a friend of the Government and of the Bill, he did agree with them to a large extent. He ventured to think that his right hon. friend the Prime Minister had not made out a case for the application of the closure procedure at this particular stage of the discussion. He understood the argument for the Motion was that the Bill dealt with a very limited issue, that its main subject had been amply discussed on First and Second Reading, and that the enormous mass of Amendments before the House either attacked again the main principle of the Bill or else attempted to introduce changes of the general law which it was not advisable or convenient to make at present. He thought that would be a good case for applying the closure, even at such an early stage of the debate, but he did not think an impartial examinations of those dreadful sixty-five pages of Amendments would lead to the conclusion that such an argument applied. The application of a scheme of compensation to our existing licensing law was a very difficult matter, and he did not wonder that a great many suggestions had been made in matters of detail, some of which had already been adopted or met by the Solicitor-General, who had conducted the debate with such marked skill and good humour. He thought the greater part of the Amendments dealt with important matters, and were directed against the introduction into the general law of a very important constitutional change. It seemed more than doubtful whether the authors of the Bill had really intended it to effect such a change. To many of them who were interested in the question of temperance reform it appeared that the change which limited the discretion of the magistrates as to a renewal of licence would really give away what he might call the key of the position 543 of temperance reform. They thought it almost a matter of conscience that this important question should be debated fairly, and he appealed to his right hon. friend to extend the limit of time allowed to the Bill so that such important questions as this might receive adequate discussion.
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorganshire, Mid.)
said that he did not think that the suggestion made by the right hon. Baronet would meet the views of the House. What he proposed to ask the House was this, if this Resolution were carried, could the Bill be properly discussed? He cared very little for precedents in this matter, and less for opinions of the occupants of the Treasury Bench in past years and past Governments. The only question which, in his opinion, the House ought to have in view, in considering the proposals of the Prime Minister, was whether or not, having regard to the particular Bill before the House, it could, if this Resolution were carried, be adequately and properly discussed. He had great sympathy with Governments who had but little time to carry through their business, but on this occasion his sympathy was not so great, because they were now near the end of a session in which the time had been muddled away from the commencement. He quite admitted that the Parliamentary machine was not at present efficient. No business could be carried on satisfactorily by the 670 Members of Parliament under the present procedure, and it was a very great pity, in his opinion, that the rules could not be amended in such a way as to enable Bills which had reached a certain stage to be carried over from one session of Parliament to the next, if within the ordinary limits of the session the Bill could not be adequately and properly discussed. He had listened with sorrow to the speech of the hon. Member for Norwood, who had the cause of temperance so much at heart. Everyone who had listened to temperance matters in this House would agree that the contributions of the hon. Member for Norwood had been of the most excellent kind. His speeches, always short, were among the most eloquent heard in the House, and it was with pain and regret that he heard the hon. Member get up and say that he 544 was going to vote for this proposal because it was resisted by the Opposition. So far as the speech of the hon. Member for the Spen Valley was concerned, he would say nothing whatever about it, except that he agreed with every word that the hon. Member had said.
So far as the conduct of the Bill was concerned, he would say nothing about the Home Secretary, except that the right hon. Gentleman had not had much experience in conducting Bills through the House, that he did not trouble the House very much, and only occasionally read something which had been written down for him, or which he had written down himself. But no Bill had ever been conducted better than this, when the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General was left in charge of it. He disagreed with one of his hon. friends who had stated that an Irishman ought not to be in charge of the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite was Solicitor-General for England, and even if, at the beginning of the discussion, he was not acquainted with the details of the English licensing system, he had shown that he could conduct the Bill moderately, sensibly, and with good humour. If the Solicitor-General had been given carte blanche to listen to the speeches and consider the Amendments, he could have got the Bill through Committee, and it would have emerged from the ordeal in such a shape as to have commanded, at any rate, some respect in the eye of the country. The Bill really required to be more fully discussed than an ordinary measure. Its source of origin was the brewers. Almost every reforming agency in the country disagreed with its proposals. The Prime Minister had declared the Bill to be in the interests of "eternal justice." The Bishops, clergy, and ministers of all denominations were supposed to know something about justice—they certainly dealt in matters affecting eternity—and when the two elements were combined in eternal justice, surely the opinion of the Bishops and clergy, which was against the Bill, ought to carry some weight. But the right hon. Gentleman practically told the Bishops to stick to their lasts, to wear their own aprons, or whatever the proper phrase might be. Moreover, the 545 medical profession, who were concerned mainly with the physique of the country, had through some of their most eminent representatives declared against the Bill. The working of the measure depended absolutely upon the details of the scheme, and it was essential that those details should be perfected as far as possible by the combined wisdom and intelligence of the House. It was impossible for even a single Amendment to be considered satisfactorily in the time allotted to the Bill, and consequently the measure would not be properly discussed at all. If the procedure of the House was to be altered in any way it should be done by a Resolution applying to the whole of the business. The Committee stage was the most essential stage in connection with such a measure as the Licensing Bill. It was a pity that on the Committee stage of such Bills there was not fuller freedom from Party ties. Many Members on the other side would be glad to vote on the questions affected without being driven by the crack of the Party whip.
§ MR. SPEAKER
intimated that the remarks of the hon. Member hardly applied to the Motion before the House.
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS
admitted that he had wandered somewhat from his general argument. The question was of the greatest importance from the Parliamentary point of view, and he would be only too delighted if something could be done to carry the business through. It was the business of Parliament to do work. Hon. Members who had considered the matter must have been astounded at the waste of time in the House. The present proposal, however, would not save time. Apparently they could not get anything done until they began to waste time, but it was not by spasmodic changes of this kind that the dignity of the House of Commons would be upheld. He objected to the Licensing Bill, and therefore objected to the proposals to hurry the Bill through. The Motion would form a very bad precedent to future Governments, who would take advantage of it to transact the business of the country improperly.
§ SIR JOHN KENNAWAY (Devonshire,) Honiton
freely admitted it was a Party 546 measure most keenly contested, and as such must be dealt with and carried through. It had been said that the Bishops and clergy were totally opposed to the Bill, but the fact was that the Bishops had passed a resolution strongly in favour of a time limit. His idea of a time limit was that there should be some time at which the Bill should be reconsidered aid Parliament have an opportunity of again pronouncing an opinion upon it. It was not fair, therefore, to say that the Bishops and clergy were opposed to the Bill as a whole. But there were many chairmen of quarter sessions who had spoken strongly in favour of the Bill, because they believed the principle on which it was based was a right one. He admitted fully that it ought to be discussed, because there were many points on which it deserved consideration and he would strongly join in the appeal to the Government to enlarge the time for discussion. He should like to have an assurance from the Government that they would fairly consider Amendments to be submitted from either side. It was not to their interests to have a Bill forced through the House, and if it were it would be opposed to the moral sense of the country. The House, however, should be master of its own business, and ought not to allow itself to become a laughing-stock in the country. The country expected the House of Commons to do business, and he thought with the Prime Minister, they ought to bring their business within moderate limits. If the Government would grant a little more time, he did not despair of the Bill being fairly well discussed. There were still three stages of the Bill to go through and they had no right to assume that the discussion would be of a perfunctory character. A good deal of time had been wasted this session, and if three or four weeks discussion were allowed on the Committee stage of this Bill, the only effect would be that other important measures would have to be rushed through next month. He should vote for the Resolution, but hoped the Government would be ready to listen to a fair consideration of the Amendments.
§ MR. BARLOW (Somersetshire,) Frome
said that he should not have intervened 547 in this debate but for the fact that he considered the course which the Government had adopted in regard to the Licensing Bill was a very serious one, not merely in connection with that measure, but also for the future well-being, and indeed the authority of, Parliament. He did not see how the Government could expect the country to give that assent and support which was supposed to be given to the measures passed by the House of Commons to a measure which was passed under the operation of the closure after such a very short and wholly inpdequate time had been allowed for the discussion of the measure; and action of this kind prevented the House of commons from being the master of its own business, and utterly took away from it the power of shaping its measures. It was the duty of the Government, not only to get measures through, but to afford the House of Commons adequate time and opportunities to discuss, at any rate, the leading features and provisions of this and other Bills. If the Resolution before the House were adopted, he did not think anyone could say that the House had been afforded an adequate opportunity of looking into the most important parts of the Bill. It was all the more important that the House should have an adequate opportunity to examine this measure closely, because the subject was a thorny and difficult one, which had been considered by a Royal Commission. When the Government brought in a Bill which was not in accordance with the recommendations made, either by the minority or the majority Reports of Lord Peel's Commission, they ought to be specially careful to give the House of Commons time to examine the provisions of the measure, and to see the reasons why they had not carried out the suggestions made. He had listened with very great interest to-day and on Friday to the speeches which had been made on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Altrincham had said that he would vote for the proposal of the Government, though he admitted that he would do so with great uneasiness, because he thought the closure was a detestable action. That was very strong language for a supporter of the Government to use about their action. 548 Other Members had suggested that if the Government could not see their way to give up this proposal they would, at any rate, give the House rather more time to examine the Bill than they proposed to do at present. Many such suggestions had come from the Government side of the House, and he hoped that those suggestions would lead to a modification of the proposals of the Government. The Bill was one which required careful examination. It dealt with very important matters affecting the social life of the people of this country, and he was certain it could be—and he spoke in this way in no Party sense—very materially improved by adequate and reasonable discussion across the floor of the House. Some improvements had already been made, but most important parts of the Bill were as yet unreached. It had been said that the measure was not submitted to the country, and from that point of view, he thought the Government ought to give full and ample time in the Committee stage to see if the Bill could not be made a more workable and reasonable measure than it was now. The discussion on the Opposition side of the House had not been obstructive. If there had been any obstructive discussion it had been on the Government side of the House directly after the interval allowed for dinner. That was the only time when any acute observer could detect obstruction. On the Opposition side of the House they had endeavoured to discuss the Bill fairly and reasonably, with the idea of making it a more workable and better measure. He thought that if measures of this kind were to be subjected to closure by compartments in the way proposed by the Government, when they had been so briefly discussed as this Bill had been, it would be a bad day for the country, for the House of Commons, and for constitutional government in this country.
§ MR. MARSHALL HALL (Lancashire, Southport)
said an appeal had been made by the hon. and learned Member for the Launceston Division to the Ministerialists to consider this matter in a judical spirit, and it was because he was anxious to do so that he had determined to support the Government, as he did not 549 think any private feeling of his own ought to interfere with his judicial duty. He was personally against this proposal, and so far as he could, would resist any interference with the rights and liberties of the House of Commons. It was a great pity that a Bill of the magnitude of the Licensing Bill should be rushed through the House, but he was in this far more serious difficulty. He believed that the Bill as framed and when carried would be in aid of temperance, and he yielded to no man in his anxiety to see the cause of temperance advanced. He also believed that this Bill would do another thing. It would remove the possibility of a grave injustice being done to a trade which had not deserved that injustice should be done to it. If he was right in that, the difficulty which presented itself to his mind was this, Was this Bill to be passed or not? If he could take seriously the protestations of his hon. friends opposite that they really wished the Bill to be fairly discussed and passed if a proper measure, he might take another view in regard to the Resolution; but he regretted to say that he was afraid that the anxiety of his hon. friends opposite was that the Bill should not be passed in any form or state whatever. He had only to listen to the passionate invective of the hon. Member for Spen Valley to find what was the Opposition feeling in regard to this particular Bill. When he listened to the impertinent buffoonery of the hon. Member for Northampton [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh!" and "With-dray"]—he felt it was a deliberate—[Renewed cries of "Withdraw."]
§ MR. MARSHALL HALL
I withdraw it, but if the hon. Member were here I do not think he would wish it withdrawn, for this reason—I think the hon. Member for Northampton takes pleasure in turning to ridicule matters before the House. [Cries of "Withdraw."]
§ MR. MARSHALL HALL
said he withdrew unreservedly and at once any expres- 550 sion he ought not to use, as he thought any hon. Member would do. He looked upon the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton as a waste of time. In saying that he hoped he might be within the limits of Parliamentary etiquette. The hon. Member was apt, and took great delight in turning into ridicule matters which did not always seem to be subjects for ridicule; and these speeches shoved him that there was a wish on the other side of the House that this Bill should not become law. Therefore they came face to face with two alternatives…either this Bill must pass or fail. If it was to be passed it seemed to him that after the speech of the Prime Minister the only way it could be passed was by the application of closure by compartments. If this was to be applied he joined with his hon friends who had just spoken, the two hon. Baronets below the gangway, who had asked that more time should be given to the discussion of the two great principles involved. He would like more time given to the consideration of the ultimate destination of the compensation and the allocation of it; and he would like to see the rights of the actual licence-holders protected beyond any possibility of their being taken from them. To say that this was a brewers' measure entirely was not a just criticism of the Bill. It was not right to say that this Bill was dictated by the brewers. It was a Bill required by the public and by the whole of the licensed trade in the interests of temperance. He asked that the interests of the servants of the brewers and of the public in this matter should be safeguarded, and that ample opportunity would be given to discuss the rights that they had under this Bill. He said again that this was a measure in favour of temperance, and he spoke with some knowledge. He had had as much experience, if not more, than a great many hon. Members in regard to the working of the Licensing Acts of this country, and he said without fear of contradiction that many benches of magistrates had refrained from taking away licences which otherwise they would have taken away, and thereby reduced the number of licences, because they felt that they could not do so without the risk of doing an injustice, 551 and they thought that the lesser two evils was the better to choose on those particular occasions.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is discussing the merits of the Bill and not the Motion.
§ MR. MARSHALL HALL
said he had not meant to say more than that it was a temperance measure, and he regretted that he had been tempted to go beyond that and to give the reasons for thinking that it was a temperance measure. The Bill was one which the majority of the House wanted to see carried. It was a Bill of the greatest importance, and if hon. Gentlemen were to go to the country upon the Bill, he had very little doubt that the voice of the country would be in favour of it. The question was whether they were to subordinate the wishes of the majority to the prejudices of the minority.
There was only one other topic he wished to discuss, and that was that the opportunity seemed to have been taken by the somewhat intemperate advocates of temperance outside the House of Commons to make the passing of this Resolution a vehicle for threats against individual Members of the House. He himself had been the recipient of letter after letter from persons threatening to do all in their power to make others vote against him night and day if he supported this Resolution. He knew whence that class of letters came, and he knew how to treat them. But if one thing would induce him to do his best to support the Government in this matter it would be the threat that any private injury could occur to himself for doing what he believed it to be his honourable duty to do on this occasion. He had no wish to trespass on the time of the House any longer, and he regretted that in almost his first speech in the House he should have been betrayed into using an expression with regard to the hon. Member for Northampton, which was unparliamentary and which he had withdrawn. He felt very strongly on this subject, and he regretted the action which was generally taken by a section of the temperance party on this question. He maintained that hon. Members on the Ministerial side 552 of the House were just as keenly interested in temperance as his hon. friends opposite; and it was became he was an advocate of temperance, and because he honestly believed that the Bill would do good, and because he believed that the Resolution under discussion was the only way in which this Bill could be passed into law, that he would give his vote for the Prime Minister's Motion, and take the consequences, whatever they might be to himself.
§ MR. HELME (Lancashire, Lancaster)
said that it was because of the strength of the feeling that the necessity of the case demanded a more careful consideration of this Bill than could be given to it if the House assented to the proposal of the Prime Minister, that he entered his most emphatic protest against it. So far as could be judged from the expressions of opinion that had come from their constituencies hon. Members on each side of the House were face to face with evidence, that could not be disputed, that the country agreed that the House could not give proper consideration to this Bill under the time limit proposed by the Prime Minister. The public regarded this proposal as a question whether the trade should control the State or the State control the trade, and, further, they were justified in opposing the Motion to the best of their ability on the ground that it would degrade the proceedings of Parliament. As the Bill now stood it was entirely subversive of the best interests of the country in connection with a most important question, and why should the Government say that the Committee stage should be curtailed? Luring the discussions in Committee it had been discovered that the powers of the magistrates had been so greatly impaired as to upset the conceptions of the people in regard to the Bill when it was first introduced. If ever more deliberation was required for any Bill it was justified in this case, because most important concessions had been made by the Government. One was that a licence to be given in future should not come within the scope of the compensation clause of this measure, and just when they 553 were dealing with the question of magisterial control the Prime Minister stopped discussion suddenly by this drastic-proposal. The Government should be prepared to consider the equities of the case. The Government claimed that they represented the opinion of the country, but all the evidence was against that assertion, and even among their own supporters it was admitted that there was an increasing volume of popular opinion against the proposals in the Bill. That being the case the Prime Minister had no right to hurry the Bill through the House in the way he was doing. It was not true that any national interest was at stake if this Bill did not pass. It touched one of the greatest interests in another direction—the sobriety of the people. The national supremacy of this nation depended upon the skill of its workmen, and that, again, depended on the sobriety of the hands engaged in industry; effort in handicraft was paralysed if the brain was not clear from the influence of drink, but there were higher interests than commercial ones. Therefore, in opposing the forcing of this Bill through the House by closure, they were serving the highest and noblest interests of the country as well as endeavouring to preserve the constitutional liberties and privileges of this House. The mere fact that 171 Amendments had been put down by Members on the Government Benches showed that there was much room to improve the measure.
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the Clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed this evening.