§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
The justification of the Motion I am about to submit to the judgment of the House lies partly in the general condition of business during the session [OPPOSITION Cheers] partly on the character of the Bill, and partly on the progress which the Bill has made. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, judging by their cheers, seem very much interested in the question of the business of the session, and they are quite right. It is of the greatest importance in forming an estimate of such procedure as that which I now advise the House to adopt, and it gives food for thought for those who, like myself and many others on both sides of the House, are preoccupied about the conditions that are inevitably incident, as I think, to the changes which are coming over an Assembly as large as ours which insists upon, and has a traditional right to insist upon, not merely criticising the action of the Administration, but dealing in detail 1150 with every Bill, or the great majority of Bills which are brought before it. The House this session has sat on seventy-three days on which Government business has been the first order. Of course, on a great many of those days the Government has not had control of the whole day, because we have scrupulously respected the rights of, private Members before Easter and before Whitsuntide, giving to private Members the evening sitting on two nights of the week in the earlier portion, and one night of the week in the second portion. Whether that be too much or too little I will not argue; I only mention the fact to show that the mere circumstance of Government business standing as the first order does not carry with it the conclusion that the Government has control over the whole time of the day, and therefore the facts I am about to submit to the House gain greater significance.
Let me tell the House how the seventy-three days on which Government business has been the first order have been used by the House. Roughly 1151 adopting a division of our labours, which, I think, is the rational division, into business which is necessary for carrying on the business of the country which, although legislative in form, is to be carefully distinguished from legislation in the ordinary and accepted sense of the word, and legislation as it appears for example, in the list of Bills mentioned in the King's Speech—asking the House to keep that broad distinction in view, I will remind them that twelve days were occupied by the Address, twenty-seven have been occupied by Supply ["Oh"]—my hon. friend surely remembers the Supply taken before Easter dealing with Supplementary Estimates, which do not count among the allotted days. There were two days occupied in bringing Supply to an end before Easter, the Consolidated Fund Bill took two days, the Motion for the holidays two days, and two days were occupied in votes of censure. That is forty-eight days under heads which may be roughly described as Supply, and as aiding hon. Gentlemen in finding opportunities for criticism. The annual business, which includes the Budget, the Finance Bill, and the Indian Budget, occupied thirteen days, the election of Speaker one day, and legislation proper eleven days. If hon. Gentlemen will add those figures together they will find they make up seventy-three days. So that we have had eleven days for legislation as against twenty-seven for Supply and twelve for the Address. Leaving out of account Motions for adjournment, votes of censure amount to about one-fifth of the time allotted to legislation. ["How?"]—well, two days is about a fifth of eleven, while the amount of time given to Supply is much more than twice the number of days we have had for legislation, and the t me given to the King's Speech exceeds it by a day. That takes place under the rules of the House, and I am perfectly ready to admit that criticism of the Government, of the Administration of the day, is one of the first duties of the House, it certainly is the first duty of the Opposition. But I think it will be admitted, if we compare the opportunities for that criticism which have been given in the present session with the amount allotted to the Government for purposes 1152 of legislation, that this proportion seems almost excessive.
So much for the past; now let me turn to the future and remind the House how we stand in regard to the available time before the session comes to its ordinary and natural course between the 10th and the 14th or 15th of August.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Donegal is capable of understanding my argument.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That is not what the hon. Member is asked to understand. At the present moment he is asked to understand my argument.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the hon. Member will listen to me with the ordinary courtesy which the vast majority of hon. Members opposite are quite ready to extend to me, I am quite sure it will conduce to the convenience of the House on both sides. Taking the ordinary day on which we have terminated the session for many years, and I hope it is desirable to terminate it at such a day—up to Friday, August 11th, of this year there are twenty-seven working days from the present moment; in this period eight days have to be given to Supply under the Standing Orders, exclusive of three days which may or may not be given, and two days must be given for the Appropriation Bill, which leaves seventeen days only for finishing the legislative work which we have got in hand, or as much of it as it is possible to do within a reasonable time. There may be many degrees of hope with regard to the Bills which are on the Paper, and which we desire to see passed, but what we absolutely must do is to conclude the Bill which is the subject-matter of the present Motion, the discussion upon redistribution, and the Scottish Ecclesiastical Bill. I think there are other Bills 1153 that ought to be passed; there are other Bills that I hope may be passed; but I think it will be admitted that if the measure of progress which we have had on the Aliens Bill is to be that adopted in regard to other measures, our prospects of dealing with these further Bills becomes shadowy indeed. It would be a deplorable thing, I think, if nothing were done in regard to some of those measures, and yet if the House is going to insist upon its right of discussing the Aliens Bill and other Bills at the length at which they have discussed the Aliens Bill already, is it possible that we should make serious progress with these other measures before the date at which I think the session ought to terminate?
There are Gentlemen I know—I think the hon. Member for South Donegal is one of them—who hold the view that if there is a difficulty in passing Bills before the end of the second week in August, the remedy is to sit till the third or fourth week. I would remind hon. Members, in the first place, that that is not the view of the Leader of the Opposition, who urged me to make as much speed as I could with the Resolutions dealing with redistribution, because as he truly said, the period at which this House was thoroughly effective as a consultative and legislative body was running out. I entirely agree with the view that to ask the House to do very important business very late in August is really to misuse this Assembly, and to turn it to purposes which it is incapable of fulfilling. Under these circumstances, it is not merely love of grouse-shooting, love of idleness, or love of anything else which is either innocent or pernicious, but simply on the broad ground that this House, which already works, I believe, longer hours and more days than any legislative Assembly in the world, cannot be made an effective machine for executing the purposes for which it exists if we insist upon straining it, year after year, to a point which it is beyond its strength to bear.
If I have carried the House so far with me, surely I may ask them to go with me one step further. The Bill which I am asking them to put a time limit to is a Bill which is not, in its essence, a controversial 1154 Bill. ["Oh!"] I do not think it can be controversial in its essence, because, if my memory serves me aright, there was no division against the Second Reading proper ["Yes"]; the division on the Amendment, which I am quite willing to regard as a division on the Second Reading, showed that those who were prepared to wreck the Bill on Second Reading were but a small fraction of the House. I think the minority was between fifty and sixty, and the majority exceeded it very largely. If, then, we must make speed with our work, can there be a more proper subject for it than a Bill which, in its broad outlines, has this uncontroversial aspect? Otherwise, if we are to have the same progress in the future, all that remains of the seventeen days—which cannot be wholly given to such business, as there are Bills which must be passed, such as the Naval Works Bill, and Lords Amendments, and other matters which I have not enumerated—would be occupied by this Bill alone.
I do not accuse hon. Gentlemen of obstruction; it would be quite unnecessary for my argument; I do not suppose that their speeches have been out of order, or they would have been called to order by the Chairman, and I do not at all accuse them of having desired to waste the time of the Committee. If, in this critical and pressing matter of the business of the House, we had only to deal with malefactors, with men who deliberately set themselves to wreck the House of Commons as a legislative machine, the question would probably be much easier than it is; but the problem we have got to face now and hereafter for many years to come is, not the malefactor, but the Gentleman who, in making a speech, not only has the satisfaction of expressing his own sentiments at considerable length, but the additional joy of embarrassing the Government. That is a perfectly innocent frame of mind, a frame of mind in which I have been myself, in which I may perhaps find myself again, and of which I do not make any complaint in itself. But I would point out to the House that, unless we can allocate the business of an ordinary session, so that the Government of the 1155 day can get, not an excessive nor an extravagant amount, but a reasonable amount of legislation—until we can do that we shall not have got the rules of this House into a satisfactory condition. I believe that if a stranger acquainted with the details of the Aliens Bill and the questions which it raises had been brought into the gallery for odd quarters of an hour during our debates, and not told what exactly was the subject of discussion, he could not from the speeches have divined what was the Amendment before the Committee, and, indeed, whether it Was an Amendment at all and not the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. A. J, BALFOUR
Supposing I had been here only for the odd quarters of an hour of which I speak, I should be only the better judge of the stranger's state of mind and of the proposal I have submitted. What I have said does not in the least imply that the hon. Members who were thus giving vent to their opinions were out of order. Each Amendment to the Bill has some relevancy to the Bill as a whole; and it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any Chairman of Committees to draw a precise line and say which remarks are relevant to the Amendment alone and which are relevant to the other parts of the Bill with which the particular Amendment is necessarily connected. I myself hold the view that such Resolutions as that which I am now proposing, and which have been proposed by me on previous occasions and by my predecessors, are an inevitable part of the present machinery of Parliament, and that their adoption will be found necessary by my successors as they were found necessary by my predecessors. These Resolutions are only tolerable when regarded as a transition stage to something better, and it will be the duty of those who in the future are responsible for the business of this House to see whether that development cannot be made on reasonable and rational lines.
1156 It is absurd to say that the House of Commons ought to deal with legislation and the other matters which are brought before it in a nonparty spirit. After all, we are organised into Parties. Party feeling is the very breath of our nostrils, and though it may be and has, I am glad to think, been put aside on occasions—often with regard to foreign affairs and administrative affairs, and sometimes even in regard to legislation—you clearly cannot trust to matters in this House being always dealt with in a non-Party spirit. If the Opposition of the day see their way to getting an advantage by a little more eloquence, that little more eloquence will certainly be forthcoming. If that has been found the invariable rule in the past, it will be found the invariable rule in the future also, and what has to be devised is not something that will treat us as angels, because we are not angels, or as people who will never take a Party advantage to embarrass the Government of the day, because we will take and always have taken a Party advantage to embarrass the Government of the day, but some plan by which the debating, the critical, and, indeed, the destructive powers of Members are diverted from things that are unimportant to things that are essential.
If some mechanism could be devised by which those parts of a Bill which do not touch its essence could be dealt with upstairs in a non-Party spirit, we should have gone a long way to solve the problem. But I am sorry to say that such information as has reached me about the working of Grand Committees upstairs shows that the Party spirit has penetrated even into those regions. I am not passing any criticism upon either side of the House. I am dealing only with the bare facts of the situation. Party spirit has penetrated even to the Grand Committees, and the evils under which we have long suffered in this House, and which, as I have said, are inseparable from the debates of this House, have reached regions to which the authors of the Grand Committees fondly hoped they would never penetrate. Whether that can be put right or not I do not know. But I am 1157 quite certain, and I speak with earnest conviction upon a subject to which I have given a great deal of thought, that the problem of the future, so far as this House is concerned, will be to reconcile these apparently irreconcilable facts—that the session should not last an abnormal period, that sufficient time should be given to the criticism of the Government, and that reasonable time should be given, not merely to pass an uncontroversial Budget, like the Budget of this session, and the legislation required to carry on the administrative business of the country, but to deal with those legislative questions which the country desires to see submitted to Parliament.
How that end is to be attained by a method less clumsy and, as I think, less pernicious to free discussion than the expedient which I ask, I regret to say not for the first time, the House to adopt I do not pretend to know. But in this proposition I beg the House to agree with me, because I am sure it is a reasonable one. I ask them to agree that, so far as this session is concerned, we neither have asked the House to adopt an unreasonable amount of controversial legislation nor have had an excessive amount of time in which to pass it. The eleven days we have had so far and the seventeen days, with many deductions, which still remain to us must be admitted to be an insufficient quantity of time even to deal with the moderate programme of business which we have laid before the House. These are the particular reasons for which I ask the House to accept this Resolution. If I have for a brief time wandered into general propositions, I think the House will forgive me; because, whether they agree or not with the particular Motion which I am proposing, they will admit that this question goes far beyond Party in these two respects: first, that it deals with the House of Commons as a whole, and, secondly, that it deals with both Parties alike, since each Party will in its turn have to occupy the positions of critics and legislators; and the more the House can address itself in a non-Party spirit to the solution of the most difficult problem which I have laid before it, the better it will be for an 1158 ultimate solution upon lines that will allow the fullest and freest discussion of any new projects of legislation which the Government of the day may lay before it. I beg to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the proceedings in Committee and on Report of the Aliens Bill, including proceedings on the financial Resolution relating thereto, shall, unless previously disposed of, be brought to a conclusion at the times and in the manner hereinafter mentioned:—
- (a) The proceedings in Committee on the remaining part of Clause 1, and Clauses 2 and 3, and on the Committee stage of the financial Resolution, shall be brought to a conclusion on Monday the 10th of July;
- (b) The proceedings on the Report stage of the financial Resolution, and in Committee on Clauses 4,5,6, and 7, shall be brought to a conclusion at the termination of the Afternoon Sitting on Tuesday the 11th of July;
- (c) The proceedings in Committee on the remaining Clauses of the Bill, on any new Clauses or Schedules, and any other proceedings necessary to bring the Committee stage to a conclusion, shall be brought to a conclusion at the termination of the Evening Sitting on Tuesday the 11th of July;
- (d) The consideration of the Report of the Bill shall be appointed for Monday the 17th of July, and shall be brought to a conclusion on that day;
- (e) At 11 p.m. on Monday the 10th of July, and at 6. 30 p.m. on Tuesday the 11th of July, and at 12 midnight on Tuesday the 11th of July, and at 11 p.m. on Monday the 17th of July, the Chairman or Speaker shall" forthwith put the Question or Questions on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair, and shall next proceed successively to put forthwith the Question or any
1159 Amendments moved by the Government of which notice has been given (but no other Amendments), and on every Question necessary to dispose of the business allotted to the day or sitting.
- (f) 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.
§ The Third Reading of the Bill shall be put down for the Evening Sitting on Wednesday the 19th of July, and at 12 midnight on that day the Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to conclude the proceedings on that stage of the Bill.
§ The proceedings to which this Order relates shall not be interrupted except at the Afternoon Sitting at 7. 30 p.m. on the 11th and 17th of July, under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.
§ After the passing of this Order, on any day or at any Sitting to which Business is allotted under this Order, no dilatory Motion on the Bill or Resolution, and no Motion to postpone a Clause of the Bill, shall be received unless moved by a Minister in charge of the Bill, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
§ No Motion under Standing Order 10 shall be received on the 10th, 11th, 17th, or 19th July, and no opposed Private Business shall be set down at the Evening Sitting for consideration on those days.
§ If Progress be reported, the Chairman shall put this Order in force in any subsequent sitting of the Committee."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
Whatever may be the view which we take of the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman has just made to the House, there is one thing upon which we are all sure to agree, and that is in recognising the excellent tone and spirit in which he has intro- 1160 duced it. The Leader of the House was amiable; he was plausible; he was convincing, no doubt, to those who are already convinced, and he was not irritating to those who are difficult to be convinced. Further than that, towards the end of his speech he lifted the subject to a higher plane than that to which we are accustomed on these occasions, because he opened up what is undoubtedly a great and difficult constitutional question—namely, the question of how the business which the House of Commons undertakes to do can be got through in the time at its disposal.
I cannot help casting my mind back to an analogous occasion. Last year this summary process was applied by the Government to the Licensing Bill, and it was met by us in a determined and almost angry spirit. My right hon. friend the, Member for East Fife moved what we called a reasoned Motion in opposition. I rather think we debated it for more than one day. [An HON. MEMBER: Three days.] Let us say for parts of three days; but that was because we had before us a Bill which we considered of a revolutionary character, and highly injurious to the best interests of the country, and which contained a large number of detailed provisions of the first importance which we thought ought to be fully discussed and considered by the House before any such Bill passed into law. On this occasion the procedure is to be applied to a third-class measure which, by dint of advertisement and other manœuvres, has managed to get itself elevated into the first position, and has become, in fact, almost the sole contents of the legislative programme of the Government for the year. How do we look upon that measure? It contains one or two principles which we think dangerous and unsound in the highest degree; but we say also that it is absolutely unworkable—that, as it cannot do the good it professes to aim at, neither can it be made probably to do the mischief we believe it might do. We have the authority of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer and former Home Secretary, the Member for Croydon, who told us that he tried one scheme after another, and rejected them all as perfectly unworkable. Now, that eases 1161 our minds. It gets rid of a great deal of friction, and makes us willing, although we make our protest, not to carry that protest too far; because we know that, except by some unforeseen accident, the Bill will not come into actual operation. That is the reason why this proposal applied, as I say, to this third-rate Bill does not excite anything like the same opposition or feeling of irritation as attended the previous case in which this process was adopted.
But the right hon. Gentleman, in order to commend his Motion to the House, very naturally cast his eyes back on the session, and forward to the remainder of the session. With regard to the past he read out some figures showing the days devoted to this and to that. Again I thank him for relief to my mind. I was under the impression that my friends and I had been great malefactors this session. I have received numberless rebukes of an anonymous character protesting against my action in wasting the valuable time of the House on idle votes of censure, and I remember the hon. Member for Essex, who always tries to be facetious, put a Question to the Prime Minister suggesting that Monday in each week should be devoted to the usual vote of censure. The right hon. Gentleman did not give an unfavourable reply, though he did not adopt the suggestion.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
At all events, it appeared to the right hon. Gentleman not an unnatural suggestion to make. But there have been only two votes of censure in the course of the whole session. My memory is not very exact, but I can only call to mind two, so the right hon. Gentleman cannot blame us for occupying the time of the House. No, Sir, the truth is that the Government and their Party raised not very long ago a great question in this country, which has excited and occupied the public mind almost to the exclusion of everything else, and that has killed and destroyed interest in most other things for the moment; and the Government having lasted, as the 1162 country thinks, quite long enough, and the country having shown, as they have shown in the unbroken series of elections, that they think that this regime had better be brought to an end, these circumstances have had a great effect on the driving force of the House of Commons. In such conditions I frankly say I do not recognise the right of right hon. Gentlemen to sit where they do; but whether we go that length or not, at all events they are by universal consent so weakened and deprived of their original vivacity and power that they are unable to carry great measures. Therefore we have this third-rate Bill, only asked for in one or two parishes in the country. [An HON. MEMBER: How about Poplar?] My hon. friend the Member for Poplar is quite able to answer for himself; but, that being the state of things, it really accounts for the situation.
But the right hon. Gentleman kept saying, "We have only been allowed so many days for this or that." Who allowed? He is the master of the House. He has the many legions and he has the disposal of the time for the business of the House; and if it is said that he, after all, is subject to the rules and practice of the House and that deprives him of the power to do what he would like, he is the author of the rule3 of the House, and therefore if there has been any lack of opportunity for getting on with business it is he who entirely recast, and, I think, mischievously recast, the rules of the House; and, therefore, I am afraid I must depart so far from the entirely amiable attitude I wish to assume and remind the right hon. Gentleman that he cannot get rid of a large share of the blame for the state of things which now exists.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I distinctly stated that I did not anticipate that the rules would deal with the particular difficulty before us.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
No, but I do say they have a decided tendency to hinder the progress of Bills, and I pointed out when the rules were introduced that the granting of an extended dinner hour, with its consequent difficulty of reassembling, would not 1163 conduce to the progress of business. And I remember that I reminded the right hon. Gentleman in the old days, when we were accustomed to what were then called morning sittings and had an interruption of that sort, that the moment a Government—whatever Government it might be—got possession of the full time of the House we should hear no more of morning sittings, because they knew they were fatal to the rapid progress of business. So much for the past. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to speak of having been allowed this or that, seeing that he is the great allower and disposer of the time for business.
Then the right hon. Gentleman turns to look ahead. There is not a very large prospect of opportunity for new legislation; but even with all the terrors of August 1st before us and the necessity of having to pay due homage to that date, the right hon. Gentleman proposes, with so many Bills half digested, with so many arrears of business, the House not long having entered upon the Committee stage of probably the one great measure of the year—the right hon. Gentleman calmly suggests that the House should be invited to enter on the question of Parliamentary reform as a nice little pastime. The lamentations of the right hon. Gentleman over the past of the session and his statement of the dreadful state in which business now stands are a condemnation of his proposal to enter on a totally new subject for which I am not aware that any one except the hon. Member for Wandsworth has asked, and, I will add, a subject which, if dealt with, as I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman would seek to deal with it, honestly and fairly, is not, I think, very likely to secure any great electoral advantage to the Party with which he is connected. That makes it the more extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman, having nothing to gain by it, should deliberately wish that the House should enter on this great question of Parliamentary reform; because once you begin to alter boundaries and to absorb little boroughs, and to put the whole thing in the melting-pot, you must go on to the other and not very easy question of the franchise. The first stage of that is to be taken under the 1164 auspices of a weakened and discredited Government—discredited by the general opinion of the electors—in a fagged-out and wearied-out House, at the very end of the session, in which we have not been able to do one-fifth of the work we ought to have done, according to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope, really, after the statement he has made, we shall hear no more of the redistribution proposals.
Of course, we are opposed to this mode of dealing with great Bills. But I admit for one the cruel necessity which rests upon the right hon. Gentleman in all these cases of finding some remedy. I agree with him that it will not be very easy to apply, that it must be found and must be applied, and I do not doubt that it must take the form of devolution of some kind. Devolution in some form or other, be it small or large, tentative or comprehensive, we must come to, because the House of Commons is no longer able to undertake—there I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—the discharge of the duties that are necessarily incumbent upon it. In the meantime, we have this proposal. A good many of my hon. friends will no doubt have objections of detail to make, and also general objections of principle. I share their objections, and I shall vote against this mode of dealing with the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will at least, I hope, guard us in one particular. Again and again, I think last year, on the Licensing Bill, there were cases in which certain matters were postponed in order that new words should be brought up to meet the wishes of the House. That is often necessary in order to stave off an awkward discussion or bring a too prolonged discussion to an end. Any Amendment of that sort to any part of the Bill which has been dealt with in that way, I think, ought to be preserved from the summary process to which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to subject the Bill. I think I have sufficiently indicated my own views on the subject, and I trust I have done so in such a way as to be, though perhaps pointed in my observations, not in any way offensive to the right hon. Gentleman, who has shown a disposition to-day—whether of pure good nature or whether with a view to overcoming the opposition of the House I cannot say—to treat the 1165 matter in not only a candid, but a genial, spirit.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said that he had been present on many occasions similar to the present when extraordinary facilities were asked for by the Government in order to enable them to force through certain legislation; but he had never been present on any occasion when the proposal of the Government was invested with so much gravity and importance as that of to-day. It seemed to him that after the speech of the Prime Minister the particular merits or demerits of the Aliens Bill, or of its passing or not passing, disappeared from view altogether. On previous occasions Motions of this character were justified by peculiar circumstances, arising owing to the mismanagement of business or bad luck on the part of the Government or alleged obstruction on the part of the Opposition. But the Motions were always put forward as exceptional. The plain meaning of this was that in future, such was the condition of this Assembly, no Government could ever be expected to pass any legislation, large or small, by the ordinary rules of the House, and that no measure of importance could be carried for the people of this country except by expedients such as this, curtailing and destroying the right of discussion in the House. He was almost entirely in agreement on this point with the Prime Minister. He had, over and over again, said to the House of Commons that in his judgment as time went on it would become more and more impossible for this Assembly to fulfil its duties to all the manifold interests committed to its care. At the present moment, on the confession of the Prime Minister, the legislative machine had broken down. This was not an exceptional session. In all his experience of this Assembly, an experience extending over a quarter of a century, he never remembered a session having such a meagre programme of important legislation, and he never remembered a session in which the Government exercised the extraordinary powers at their disposal to curtail discussion by private Members in so arbitrary a fashion. There was nothing in this session except that it was an easier 1166 session for the Government to get through their programme than they had had for many years past.
What had been the experience of the session? Seventy-three days had been devoted to Government business of which only eleven had been devoted to legislation, and at the end of the eleven days the Prime Minister came down and said if this Bill, which the Leader of the Opposition had described as a third-rate Bill, was to be passed into law in a reasonable time it must be promptly dealt with. That only meant that the House of Commons, for some reason or other, was unable to perform its work. He was glad to hear the admission of the Prime Minister that it was not due to obstruction. The case of the right hon. Gentleman to-day was that this Bill must be passed by closure by compartments and without any discussion on some of its most important provisions, not because there had been any obstruction but because the legislative machine had broken down. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in what he said as to the length of the session. He went further. In his judgment this House ought never to sit longer than July 1st, but when the right hon. Gentleman spoke of new rules he could only say he thought that a rearrangement of the financial business of the country which would enable the House to rise on July 1st would be more useful and more conducive to the rapid fulfilment of the right hon. Gentleman's duties. In comparison with other legislative Assemblies of the world this House sat more days and more hours.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
Not more days. They sit from October to Christmas.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
said he would not persist in that statement in the face of what the right hon. Baronet, whose experience was very wide, had said, but his own experience had not been small and certainly he knew most of the Assemblies in America and Canada, and so far as they were concerned this Assembly sat a great deal longer and then was not able to do its work.
What was the reason? The right hon. Gentleman had rightly said this was not 1167 due to what he had called the malefactors; it was not due to the action of men who came here with the deliberate intention to wreck the Assembly. It was due to the fact that conditions had changed; it was due to the growth of Empire; to the growth of education; and of population and other causes which could not be checked and which would glow more and more as time progressed. It came to this, that this Assembly was attempting to perform an absolutely impossible task. There was work enough for this House for six months every year if its attention were confined entirely to the affairs of England; if its attention were confined entirely to the affairs of Scotland; or if its attention were confined entirely to the affairs of Ireland or of Wales. There was ample work for this House for six months every year if its attention were confined entirely to Imperial matters. Yet this Assembly attempted in six months to perform all these duties. That that was a physical impossibility was daily becoming more apparent, and he welcomed this debate and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in which he admitted that the legislative machine had broken down and was unable to fulfil all the duties that were thrown upon it.
As to the remedy the right hon. Gentleman was not very specific. He only pointed out what would be desirable in the future. When they were asked to devote days and weeks to the discussion of the right hon. Gentleman's own new rules it was with the object, he had understood, of providing a remedy for this breaking down of the legislative machine, but according to the right hon. Gentleman's statement to-day he never expected it to do anything of the kind. That being so he must confess he did not know what the new rules were for. The right hon. Gentleman had truthfully said the Grand Committees had broken down; that the Party spirit had found its way into the Grand Committees. But who was it who first broke the rule and sent to the Grand Committeess controversial measures instead of non-controversial measures with which, and which only, it was the business of Grand Committees to 1168 deal? That was a question which he would leave to the right hon. Gentleman himself to answer. It was sufficient to point out that the Grand Committees had broken down through the introduction into them of the Party spirit. There was a small Irish Bill before one of those Committees at the present time which passed its Second Reading by a large majority, a small Bill which, f it had been under the consideration of a Committee of the whole House, would have been passed in two days. It had occupied the Grand Committee weeks and months, simply because three or four Gentlemen, including some members of the right hon. Gentleman's Administration, the two law officers for Ireland and one law officer for England, had attended day by day to obstruct its progress. The system of the Grand Committee formed no remedy.
What had been done by the right hon. Gentleman? No doubt he had an idea running through his head that this matter might be dealt with in the near future, and his mind was running on some more new rules. Every new rule passed in the House for a century past had failed. He would suggest a remedy to the right hon. Gentleman. Let the right hon. Gentleman disfranchise Ireland. It had been said in the papers that the right hon. Gentleman was going to trifle with this question; that he was going to attempt to reduce the Irish representation by a few votes. It was not worth while to tear up the Treaty of Union for the sake of a few votes. Let the right hon. Gentleman be thorough; let him disfranchise Ireland, and thus do away with the necessity of discussing Irish affairs in this House. Let him disfranchise Scotland. Let him disfranchise Wales. The right hon. Gentleman could not grapple with this question by any small expedient. The only mode of grappling with it was by giving to local Governments the management of local affairs and keeping for this Assembly the management and control of Imperial affairs. He was not making what was called a Home Rule speech. He was looking at the question from the point of view of the House of Commons, and in his opinion the only reasonable solution was a system of devolution and the reservation of this Chamber for the discussion of great Imperial affairs. At the 1169 present moment in respect to every part of the United Kingdom that there were grave, weighty, and serious problems a waiting discussion was as true of England and Scotland as it was of Ireland—yet none of those now in the House of Commons could hope to live to take part in the discussion of those problems which would have to be discussed by another generation, simply because the attempt had been made to carry out the ruinous policy of trying to transact business which would absorb the time of three or four Assemblies. In Canada alone there were eight legislative Assemblies for a population of 5,000,000, and those eight Assemblies were kept hard at work for six months in the year. He welcomed the speech of the Prime Minister, as from his point of view it was the most important statement that had been made for years, and in view of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, in his opinion, the day could not be far distant when the people would awake to the true facts of the situation, and they would save, in the only way they could save, this Assembly by a system of devolution.
§ MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs) moved an Amendment asking the House to decline to assent to any proposal to prevent legitimate discussion on matters vitally affecting the liberty of the subject. He said it was the unanimous opinion on his side of the House that a more remarkable speech than that of the Prime Minister that afternoon had never before been delivered. They expected that the right hon. Gentleman would give some reasons for the extraordinary proposals he had made, but he had not put forward a single reason why these drastic proposals should be adopted. On the contrary, the right hon. Gentleman had thought it his duty to introduce what was practically a Home Rule debate. A stranger coming into the gallery that afternoon during the right hon. Gentleman's speech might have supposed, not that he was proposing a closure Motion, but that he was submitting a measure of Home Rule for the whole country. The right hon. Gentleman had not thought it his duty to give any reasons of a substantial character why this Motion was made. The only thing he had said which in any way approached a 1170 reason was that the Government were in a complete muddle, and that, having so managed things from the beginning of the session until now, it was their duty to closure the Aliens Bill. That suggested that the Leader of the House had only to get business into a muddle in the early part of the session in order to closure any matter on the basis that the House should rise on August 12th. That was an extraordinary proposal for the Prime Minister to make. He was not foolish enough to suppose that he could induce the House to accept the Amendment of which he had given notice. Rightly or wrongly the principle of closure by compartments had become an accepted part of the machinery of the House, and they were bound to face that fact. Personally he regretted it, because, if they were to keep their present Parliamentary conditions and ignore the necessity for devolution, he was in favour of a more frequent and drastic use of the individual closure combined with new conditions as to divisions in the House. That would be better for the freedom of debate, for safeguarding the individual liberty of Members, and, on the whole, better for the dignity of Parliament itself.
§ He disliked the guillotine in the first place because it conduced to laxity and indifference on the part of Ministers themselves. What did it matter to the right hon. Gentleman how they occupied their time at the beginning of the session so long as he knew that he had an instrument by which, with a docile majority to support him, he could carry any Bill he pleased? That was a pity from the Parliamentary point of view. Ministers cared little whether their Votes in Committee of Supply were discussed or not because they knew perfectly well that at ten o'clock on certain days the guillotine would fall, and the Votes would be passed. It was possible that the guillotine might place in the hands of an unscrupulous Minister in future a power which would prevent proper discussion of the most vital points of a measure. In that way some of the most objectionable proposals of a particular Bill might not be discussed at all. Under the power which they were taking to-day, if the Motion was passed, the 1171 Government would be able to insert clauses which might never have been printed at all, and which might totally frustrate the very decisions which the Committee had already arrived at. If they were to have the guillotine, due and proper notice ought to be given by the Ministry of their intention to propose it. In the present instance it was only the previous morning that this Motion was handed in at the Table. What a precedent the Prime Minister was setting for future Governments. It was a dangerous precedent to set, and it was one that might possibly be followed in future.
§ When such a proposal was brought forward the Government ought to make out on overwhelming case in favour of it. They had not attempted to make out any case whatever for the Motion. The right hon. Gentleman had not suggested that there had been obstruction. Of course, he could not, for he had not been present during the debates in Committee. Would the Attorney-General or the Home Secretary take the responsibility of saying that there had been obstruction with regard to this Bill? There had only been obstruction on one occasion between nine and ten o'clock, and it was obstruction which came from the supporters of the Government. The other evening an Amendment was proposed by the Government which the Opposition accepted, but for over an hour the supporters of the Government spoke in favour of it. Was not that obstruction? It was certainly not an effort to hasten the progress of the Bill. At the present moment there were on the Paper ninety-nine Amendments in the names of supporters of the Government, and only forty-one in the names of Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House. That was an indication that, on the Opposition side of the House, they were not anxious to obstruct the Bill. At the same time they were entitled to criticise the Bill and to suggest Amendments. That the discussions on the Bill which had already taken place had been useful was proved by the fact that the Home Secretary had on many occasions been so impressed by the arguments adduced that definite decisions had been postponed with regard to the matters brought forward.1172
§ The proposal now before the House ought to have associated with it a condition that it would be impossible to prevent the discussion of the more important parts of the measure. Who could pretend that there had been any consideration given to that? Had the Motion been manufactured in the Whips' room without any regard whatever to the merits of the Bill? In the short time which had been available for the discussion of the measure Members of the Opposition had been able to show that the foundations on which it rested were absolutely unsound. They had been able to show that the claim of the Government that it would keep out undesirable aliens, was a bogus and a hollow claim. The Home Secretary had admitted that it would not keep them out. That was something to have achieved in the course of the debates. They had proved further that the calculations of the Government had been misleading as to the extent of the evil with which they were dealing. The Secretary to the Board of Trade had stated that the annual influx of aliens was 75,000, but the senior Member for Oldham had proved beyond dispute" that the number was only between 6,000 and 7,000. He ventured to say that the Government themselves would not deny that the discussions on the Bill had been useful.
§ If the proposal of the Government with regard to the time which was to be given for the consideration of the Bill was carried some of the most important matters in it could not be adequately discussed. Practically no time was to be allowed for the consideration of the question of political asylum in this country. On Monday they were to be asked to deal with that question, also with the qualifications of the immigration board, and the question of the rules to be issued by the Home Secretary. These rules would have a very far-reaching effect indeed. On the Monday they would also have to deal with the important question of expulsion, which was one that ought to be most carefully considered. It was going to be possible under that clause to expel a person because he was living in a crowded neighbourhood under insanitary conditions. The consideration of that 1173 clause was absolutely debarred by the I proposals of the Government. Then also on Monday they had to deal with the question of expense in connection with the operations of the Bill. Was it possible for the Committee to deal with all those matters when they were going to give a blank cheque to the Government? The Prime Minister was asking for impossibilities and proposing that this Bill should be pass ad without discussion. On Tuesday they would have four-and-a-half hours in which to settle the manufacture of new offences. A person simply had to fail to give complete information as to his antecedents and it would be possible to send him to prison for giving false information. No limit of time was fixed and yet all those matters would be discussed under the operations of the rule. At the Evening Sitting on the Tuesday there was the important question of definition to be raised and the rest of the Bill was practically to be passed in a very few hours. The Government could not honestly pretend that under the proposed arrangement it would be possible to discuss the Bill with any degree of satisfaction.
§ He could understand a new Government, with a mandate from the country, and bringing forward far-reaching proposals, treating the House in this manner, but they had a Government that lacked the confidence and support of the country. The Prime Minister's present colleagues were not in the Cabinet when the last appeal was made to the country. All the strong men then in the Government had left the right hon. Gentleman, and he was presuming too much in putting a Motion of this kind before the House. The Government had no right to submit these proposals, for which no case had been made out. There had been no obstruction or desire to delay the passage of the Bill, but, if the criticisms were allowed to continue the country would be made alive to the bogus and hollow character of the Bill. It contained conditions which might be used with very great severity and injustice against particular individuals. On those grounds he begged to move the Amendment.
§ MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)
had much pleasure in seconding the Amendment. 1174 In his speech the Prime Minister had treated the question of Parliamentary procedure in a general way, but whilst that portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was interesting it contained no proposals of any value. The other part of the speech which had reference to this particular proposal was strangely halting in its sentences for so eloquent a speaker and was extremely thin in its arguments. The House must have noticed that the claims of the Government to closure by compartments were increasing year by year in their severity. In 1902 there was the Education Act treated in that manner, and last year they had the Licensing Bill, which was only allowed an extremely short discussion before the closure was applied. Now after three days of discussion—which had been on the whole an extremely businesslike discussion—they were asked to pass this Aliens Bill under closure by compartments. The Prime Minister had confused the actual issue before the House, which was doubtless suffering from serious malaise because it did not represent the authority of the country. There was no possibility of getting legislation through satisfactorily so long as the House was in its present false positions Another consideration was that each session was getting shorter and shorter. Last year they had six and a-half months, but this year they only had a bare six months. Another fortnight would have made an enormous difference in the time available for legislative purposes. Although the holidays at Easter and Whitsuntide were very welcome to jaded legislators, they made a big hole in the time of the session, and further, while the present Government was in power, Ascot week was given up to discussions of a practically uncontroversial nature, and with which often no advancement was subsequently made.
The principal question in this Bill was admittedly not one of a violently controversial kind, but, making allowances for that, he could safely assert that the action of the Government upon this Bill was never less justified. The Amendments now upon the Paper only ran to ten pages. They had already got through two pages 1175 a day of them, and if either the Prime Minister or the Minister in charge of the Bill could take the House into his confidence and help the passage of the Bill by an appeal to Members to accelerate the discussion of Amendments, he was perfectly certain that the Bill could have been passed in a few days without resorting to closure by compartments. More than one page out of the ten was taken up with Amendments moved by the Home Secretary as an acknowledgment of the justice of the criticisms made upon the Bill. Then two-thirds of the Amendments were in the names of supporters of the Government, and only one-third were in the names of Opposition Members. He ventured to say, on behalf of those sitting on that side of the House, that in criticising the Bill they had not tried to waste the time of the House. Personally he was a strong critic of the Bill, because he had studied the case put forward by the Government, and, to his mind, it had completely broken down. Last year he was in favour of the Bill, but in the meantime he had found out how weak was the case of the Government. The Opposition had merely tried to improve the Bill and to make it less objectionable, and the Home Secretary's concessions showed how justified were their criticisms. In a very few days the Bill would have passed through Committee, and they would not have objected to the suspension of the twelve o'clock rule in order to expedite the passage of the Bill.
He also desired to point out the serious effect on future discussions if closure by compartments were to be resorted to. The Government would merely have to sit tight in their places while the allotted time was being used, and the closure would come automatically. They (the Government) would have no inducement to curtail any particular portion of the debate, and the professional talker, who was so often in evidence between nine and ten o'clock, would be able to further waste the time of the House. They could not discuss in the seven and a half-hours proposed the ten or eleven very important topics still left in Clauses 1,2, and 3 of the Bill. That was perfectly impossible, and it would inflict a very great injustice upon those 1176 interested in the Bill to carry through the Prime Minister's proposal. It would further seriously operate against the good working of the Bill if so many important points were to be struck out as must be the effect of agreeing to the Motion of the Government. He begged to second the Amendment.
In line 1, to leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of Question, and insert the words 'having regard to the small amount of time already devoted to the consideration of the Aliens Bill in Committee, and the failure of the Government to press forward the measure at an earlier period of the session, this House declines to assent to any proposal having as its object the prevention of legitimate discussion on matters vitally affecting the liberty of the subject.'"—(Mr. Dalziel.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'the' in line 1, stand part of the Question."
MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanarkshire, Partick)
thought hon. Gentlemen opposite were putting themselves in rather a delicate and difficult position by opposing this Motion. They had told the supporters of the Government repeatedly in the debate that they were an obsolete and used-up majority, and that at the earliest moment the Opposition were going to take the Government side of the House and the conduct of the business. When that happy time arrived and legislative schemes were brought forward of a much greater and more beneficent character than anything the present Government could propose, hon. Members opposite might find themselves compelled to resort to the method of closure by compartments, whilst hon. Members now sitting on the Government side of the House would probably use the same methods of discussion as were now employed by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The Leader of the Opposition said that this was a third-rate measure. If that were so, he thought it was rather a pity that the Opposition had not shown a little more silent contempt for it. He could say that he had looked in occasionally for a quarter of an hour when the Bill was being discussed, and certainly found that it was being debated with the same vigour as any other measure. He did not think that a distinction which 1177 would serve the position very much in the future when hon. Gentlemen opposite expected to occupy the Treasury Benches; for it would not lie in their mouths to say that they were bringing forward such small find contemptible measures that any excuse of that kind should prevail. The difficulty which they had to meet was not of obstruction in the sense of talking nonsense, but the difficulty of the House of Commons not having a due sense of proportion—of giving too much time to comparatively small measures and too little to important Bills. The hon. Member for Waterford said they could set free the time of the House by taking away Irish local business. That would leave still too much to be done; they must take away also the business of Scotland, Wales, and the Colonies. That depended on the disposition of the House. If the House wished to quarrel over the hundredth part of a hair, it could spend just as much time over it, after taking away half or three-fourths of the business now on hand. He thought this system of closure by compartments was only the very first step to a much larger measure. The only principle on which the House of Commons could conduct its business was to exercise good sense, moderation, and the sense of proportion—to give to the different subjects their due time for discussion in relation to the full time at the disposal of the House. If not, they would have to lay down a general timetable in introducing a measure; and specify how much time could be devoted; to the measure. In that limited time the main principles of the Bill could be discussed, leaving the details to be threshed out outside. He must say that he agreed with the Prime Minister that eleven days out of seventy-three was too little time given for legislation this year.
As to a fixed end to the session, if the difficulties were so strong as the Prime Minister said they were, it was most unfortunate that the beginning of the session should not have been made a fortnight earlier. There was one point on which he heartily agreed with the hon. Member for Waterford, and that was that it was unreasonable that their arrangements should be such that they were kept there in July and August. The busi- 1178 ness of the session should be so arranged that time should be given for the enjoyment of the summer in the country. There were some measures which, 12th August or no 12th August, should be pressed forward. The Prime Minister acknowledged the claims of the Scotch Churches Bill. That was a question which must be decided before the prorogation. But there was another Scotch Bill which had strong claims on the attention of the House. They had had, year after year, a Scotch Education Bill brought in, and they had had continually held out to them a prospect of a great aid important change being made in the education of Scotland. To disappoint the expectation so often was a very serious matter for the conduct of education, and for the children who were now, as it were, in a transition state and would not get the benefit of it when the new Act came into force. He should like to ask the Prime Minister whether an improvement in the whole educational system of Scotland was to be dangled before them much longer?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said he could assure his hon. friend that he was as fully conscious as the hon. Member was of the extreme desirability of passing the Scotch Education Bill this session.
MR. PARKER SMITH
said he was extremely glad to hear it. He knew that the Prime Minister had a full sense of the importance of passing that Bill, and he trusted that if they held the House of Commons a little longer to work the measure would have a fair chance of being passed into law. But there were also the Resolutions dealing with the question of redistribution. He trusted that they would be dealt with before they parted for the autumn recess; and that the Resolutions would be debated fully after due notice. There was a growing feeling in Scotland and elsewhere that it would be to the disadvantage of their Party if the education question in Scotland were not dealt with, as the educational prospects of Scotland had been damaged by this delay for the past two or three years.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N. W.)
said that this debate had made 1179 a very wide excursion into topics which were more germane to a general consideration of the efficiency of the House of Commons than to the Resolution now before the House. The Prime Minister himself initiated that discussion, and, if he understood aright, the Prime Minister admitted that the House was reduced to the deplorable condition in which it could not properly or efficiently discharge its legislative duties. In other words, that this particular Aliens Bill could not be efficiently and properly dealt with from a Parliamentary point of view.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said that, then, he did not understand the Prime Minister's contention. The Prime Minister made the general assertion that the conditions of Parliamentary work were such that it would be necessary henceforth for the Government to deal with every atom of legislation upon the lines on which the Prime Minister was now dealing with this Bill and which he described as a third-rate measure. Was he right?
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
Then the House of Commons was able to discharge its legislative functions in respect to the Bill. If that were so, this proposal was unnecessary. With great respect to the Prime Minister he suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that he was on the horns of a dilemma. If the right hon. Gentleman could effectively pass legislation without machinery of this kind for every Bill, be it large or small, why introduce this Resolution; but if he could not pass it, then the House of Commons was impotent to pass any measure without a Resolution of this kind.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said he accepted the disclaimer of the right hon. 1180 Gentleman; but what was the position? They had a Bill which it was admitted was a third-rate measure.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said he understood that the right hon. Gentleman said it was a third-rate measure.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman confuse me with the Leader of the Opposition?
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said he was not confusing the right hon. Gentleman with the Leader of the Opposition. As a loyal supporter of the Leader of the Opposition he would be very reluotant to make that confusion. Certainly he did understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that this was not a first-rate measure.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
Then it must be a measure of capital importance. If it were a measure of capital importance, he asked the right hon. Gentleman how it was reasonable to confine discussion of it in Committee to five days? They had had three days discussion in Committee, and in these three days they had dealt with only one portion of the first clause and that by no means the most important. The important part of the Bill, which they had only touched the fringe of, was that which dealt with the economic question. But, to his mind, the central part of the Bill was the power given to the Executive of the country to exclude political refugees—he said that advisedly—and the power given to the immigration officer and the immigration board without control. Then there were the vast powers conceded to the Home Secretary to make rules, which went to the root of the whole immigration problem. Next, there was the constitution of the immigration board to be considered. Now, all these matters of capital importance were to be relegated to a two nights discussion— 1181 or ten or twelve hours in all. Was not that a scandal? He appealed to the Prime Minister whether he did not feel that that was not fair treatment of the House in respect of these important questions. He did not want to lecture the right hon. Gentleman, but it should be remembered that the right hon. Gentleman was not only Leader of his Party but Leader of the House of Commons, and the trustee of the honour and dignity of that great Assembly. Why did the right hon. Gentleman, if he always thought as he now did as to the inefficiency of the House of Commons, allow three days time to be wasted over the least important parts of the Bill? If the right hon. Gentleman knew that the most important parts of the Bill I were to be guillotined, why did he not take time by the forelock and warn the House when he introduced the Bill that he was only going to allow five days for the whole Bill in Committee, and distribute the time according to the importance of the clauses? He was a man without authority in the House, but he had been there twenty years. He never had been a strong Party man, but he was jealous of the authority and dignity of the House of Commons, and he looked to the right hon. Gentleman, as the Leader of the House, to preserve that honour and dignity. If any incident could affect his estimate of the right hon. Gentleman, as the custodian of the privileges of the House of Commons, it was this Motion. After three days had been given to only a shred of the measure, they had now the prospect of a miserable microscopic atom of time being allotted to the most important part of the Bill.
§ SIR CHARLES RENSHAW (Renfrew, W.)
said that the hon. Gentleman indicated that, in his opinion, the time of the House occupied in the consideration of the Bill had been wasted.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said that his contention was that three days were 1182 wasted on the least important part of the Bill; and that only two days were to be allowed for the most important part.
§ SIR CHARLES RENSHAW
said he was sceptical whether the Motion, if proposed at the commencement of the proceedings on the Bill, would have been accepted by the Opposition. He did not desire so much to discuss the merits or demerits of the proposal before the House, but he wished to emphasise the remarks of his hon. friend the Member for Partick as to the manner in which the Motion would affect the Scotch Education Bill. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs who introduced the Amendment was a Scottish Member, and he did not think the hon. Gentleman would disagree when he said that three-fourths of the Scottish Members were most anxious to see legislative effect in some form or another given to the proposals of the Government with reference to education in Scotland. Yet the hon. Member introduced an Amendment which would make it impossible to consider that question at all. He did not think the hon. Gentleman could have considered the matter from that point of view. All interested in education in Scotland felt that the question should not be allowed to hang over from session to session; and it was a matter of the utmost importance that there should be legislation on the subject, as the present position was paralysing educational effort in Scotland. He earnestly hoped that the Prime Minister would press forward his Motion; and, as a consequence, endeavour to find time for the Education Bill for Scotland.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE (Bristol, E.)
said that the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, and the hon. Member for Partick, had indicated that the speech of the Prime Minister was really a massacre of the innocents. Surely, in that event, the names of the measures to be sacrificed should be given to the House. There was the Scotch Education Bill, the Unemployed Bill, and the Workmen's Compensation Bill, in which hon. Members on both sides were interested. It was, therefore, important to know not only how the Motion would affect the Bill to which it nominally referred, 1183 but also how it would affect the other legislation before the House. The more expenditure in teased, the more necessary it was that the time occupied in discussing it should also be increased. That meant that the Government should consider when Parliament was about to meet, not only the legislation mentioned in the King's Speech, but also Supplementary Estimates and all the Departmental minutiae involved in the present arrangement of the business of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about legislation occupying only eleven days; but he forgot to tell the House that on two, if not three occasions, time was wasted because the Government were not ready with their business. There were a certain number of small Government measures required in order to oil the wheels of the Administration; and now the House was to be punished because at an earlier stage of the session the Government was disorganised and unable to manage the business of the House or the country. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the eloquence that was always forthcoming; but the hon. Gentlemen the Members for Peck-ham and the Central Division of Sheffield could make up any deficiency in that respect which might arise. He remembered two occasions on which they occupied between two and three hours a day in taking up the time of the House on subjects with which they were not well acquainted in order that Members of the Party opposite, who were somewhat tardy in their attendance, might be hunted out of the holes and corners of this city. When in 1888 it was found necessary to introduce the guillotine, a far longer period was given to the House to consider it; and in 1893 when Mr. Gladstone put down a guillotine Motion, a fortnight was allotted to consider its full effect. Now only a day and a-half was given in order that hon. Gentlemen might make themselves fully acquainted with the effect of the proposal.
As regarded the Bill, it involved a new principle and a new departure which might have a very serious effect on the liberty of the subject. There was one point which had escaped the notice of previous speakers. The right hon. Gentleman stated that debate was very 1184 difficult in an Assembly as large as this; and he drew attention to the fact that he proposed to introduce some proposal with reference to redistribution; but whether the House of Commons were large or small it should have full and free discussion on questions of principle and also of detail, especially in regard to a measure such as the Aliens Bill. In his own experience his right hon. friend the late Secretary of State for India who was in charge of the Parish Councils Bill, informed him that time would not permit of the insertion of a few words which he, himself, desired to move. He yielded to what he thought was the better judgment of his right hon. friend; but it; took two Acts of Parliament and two Orders in Council to make good the deficiency in the Act which his Amendment would have provided. Similarly if the Aliens Bill were allowed to pass without adequate discussion, the Government would find themselves hampered in subsequently bringing in Amendments. This Motion might ease their shoulders to-day, but it would render the burden much heavier to-morrow. There should be the fullest possible discussion on a measure of this kind. New proposals such as these could not be discussed too fully, if any advantage, were to be got out of the Bill.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that with the general remarks which had been made he agreed. He agreed especially with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford that the main argument to be drawn from the Motion was devolution. The hon. Gentleman did not, however, give sufficient attention to the relief which would be given if there were an autumn session as every other legislative Assembly had. It was a notable fact that of all the labour programme of the Government the only measure proceeded with was this bastard labour measure which none of the labour leaders believed in or wanted. He had risen to say that which had not yet been said by anyone, but which was applicable to the Motion before the House. He had never thought the Bill was an important one, but he differed to some extent from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who had described it as a third-class measure. It had 1185 declined into a third-class measure by reason of the criticisms that had been brought against it, but it was a first-class measure when one noticed the novelty of the principles involved, and the way in which it struck at the root of the principle of asylum of which this country was proud. That was the main portion of the Bill which most needed to be discussed in the House of Commons, and it was not likely to be discussed as matters stood. A short debate took place on the Bill on its introduction, and he then pointed out that there was a danger that there would be closure by compartments, and that those would be the parts of the Bill that would be shut out from discussion. He quoted the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Stepney, in which the hon. and gallant Gentlemen said he had had a conversation with the Prime Minister, who had said compartment closure would be resorted to to pass this Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentlemen then rose and said that the statement was not correct and he accepted the statement of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The latter then rose and said—I prefaced that remark by saying that I hoped that all the machinery at the disposal of the Government would be used to pass the Bill. I adhere to that hope. I did not commit the Prime Minister at all.But there could be no doubt that whether the promise to closure by compartments was made or not the statement that such a promise had been made was freely used, and in the East End it was believed that the right hon. Gentleman had promised that when this Bill reached Committee compartment closure would be used to force it through the House. The Committee had had on this Bill three days, debate which was not too much considering that this Bill was the first Bill mentioned in the King's Speech, and that it contained most novel principles. He himself had done everything he could in the earlier portions of the Bill to shorten discussion in order that the Committee might reach the most critical portion of the measure, namely, the way in which political and religious refugees would be dealt with. So far as the earlier portions of the Bill were concerned the discussions had not been very long. 1186 In the critical part of the Bill a provision had been inserted to meet the case of the political refugee. But that provision did not meet the case of the political refugee, and they were most anxious to have an opportunity of persuading the Committee to amend that portion of the Bill in Committee. Then there had been a complete failure so far as the Bill went to provide for the case of religious refugees. No attempt had been made to deal with the case of victims of religious persecution. That no attempt should be made to preserve the principle of asylum in this country for the victims of religious persecution was a dreadful thing, and it would be monstrous if they were debarred from any discussion on that point.
There were two questions coming before this which had to be discussed, one of which must, and the second of which might, take time. One was a question which had never been discussed in this House at all but which had been one of the main questions for discussion in other Parliaments. He alluded to the question of labour under contract. That was a cross issue and would lead to cross divisions in this country, as it had done in Australia, the United States, and Canada, and it was certain that the discussion upon that question would last for some time. Moreover, the Home Secretary had placed on the Paper that day an Amendment relating to aliens who were diseased. It would be necessary to consider whether that Amendment would bring the Bill into conflict with our anti-quarantine legislation. All that part of the Bill of last year was left out and nothing was done in that regard in the Bill. Now for the first time there appeared on the Paper an Amendment, of which to say the least it was necessary that there should be some explanation; because as the Bill stood at the present moment the only destitute or undesirable alien who must be landed in this country was one suffering from infectious disease, because our law and Local Government Board regulations insisted upon a person suffering from infectious disease on board ship being removed from the ship to the shore, and the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman raised the whole of that question. Therefore as the matter stood there was the gravest doubt whether on Monday 1187 next they would have time properly to discuss the wholly insufficient provision in regard to political refugees and the difficult question of preserving the right of asylum of the victims of religious persecution. As the Bill stood, if the Apostles came to this country, if St. Augustine again came to the portion of the country represented by the Home Secretary, they would be shut out, and before a House of Commons which had lost its representative character should for the first time adopt a principle of that kind, there ought to be full discussion and an opportunity of moving Amendments.
§ MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)
said that every year 250,000 emigrants, half of whom were colonists, passed through this country on their way to the western lands and we also received annually nearly 100,000 immigrants from the United States, Canada, and South America. Under those circumstances it was only right to pay great attention to the words and principle of this Bill. What had been their experience with regard to the progress of this measure? Over thirty Amendments had already been discussed. The greater portion of those Amendments had been ingeniously drawn up by hon. Gentlemen opposite with the object of discussing various subjects before the clauses to which they had reference were reached. The result was that almost every point of real importance had already been discussed. One or two, perhaps, bad not been thoroughly discussed. For instance, the point with regard to contract labour was a very important point, but he ventured to think it was only by passing this Resolution that they could reasonably expect to have an opportunity of discussing the vital points that remained to be dealt with.
§ MR. RUFUS ISAACS (Berkshire, Reading)
said whatever charges were levelled against the members of the Opposition, he, at least, might be entitled to some credit for not having obstructed the proceedings of the House. Hitherto he had been reserving himself for this Bill, upon which he would like to say a few words in view of the present situation. It appeared that the main point of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean was one on which 1188 there was to be very little discussion, because of the time available under the Resolution proposed by the Prime Minister. But let them pause and consider who was responsible for the situation which was causing so much concern to the right hon. Gentleman and the House. Might he suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that nothing had happened in the discussions on this Bill which was not to be expected on a measure of this character, introducing controversial subjects. Was it not to be expected that Members of the House should desire an opportunity of stating their views and of pressing such arguments as they thought best to bring to bear upon hon. Members and the House? That, apparently, had not been foreseen by the right hon. Gentleman. Was it supposed that the words in Sub-section 30, Section 1 of the Bill, which raised the whole question of political refugees, was not to be discussed? Did that not involve one of the most important rights we had been accustomed, here, to give to those who came to us from abroad? Did it not involve the question of the safe asylum of this country to those who we e persecuted, and was not the House to have the opportunity of discussing moderately and fairly the proposition that an exception should be made in favour of those who came here solely for the purpose of avoiding prosecution for an offence of a political character. Under this Bill an asylum would be refused to a man who sought it in order to avoid prosecution for an offence of a political character.
They had had three days discussion in Committee on this Bill and they were now told that that was too much. The ordinary man in the street would have known that this Bill was impossible of discussion in the five days it had been before the House. He understood that only eleven days of a total of seventy-three had been given to legislation. As a new Member of the House he had his lessons to learn, but he had been sitting and learning them now for some time, and he would have thought, even without becoming a Member and certainly without becoming Prime Minister, that it was possible to remedy that position with the greatest 1189 ease. Those who were responsible for the conduct of the business of the House ought to foresee the amount of time that would be required for the measures they intended to introduce and to take precautions to ensure sufficient time for their full discussion. The means by which the necessary time could have been secured was very simple, and entirely in the hands of the Prime Minister. Parliament might have met considerably earlier in the year—for he presumed the Government had then made up its mind to introduce this Aliens Bill, involving the principles included in the sections mot yet discussed. As a new Member he could not help saying that, judging from his short experience of the way in which Parliamentary affairs were conducted, the House of Commons, as means of passing legislation, was a very ineffective body indeed.
The principle to which he had chiefly referred had not been discussed, in Committee at all. Many Members on both sides of the House were anxious to discuss the question and have safeguards inserted. It was true that the Home Secretary had expressed his willingness to add after "avoid prosecution" the words "or punishment on religious grounds." But that was a purely illusory concession. Whether it was a Russian Jew who had been persecuted or an Armenian Christian who had suffered in consequence of his religion, the case could not be brought within the terms "punishment on religious grounds." The would-be immigrant would have to show that he was avoiding prosecution for an offence, and, even though his life had been made unbearable, if he had not been threatened with prosecution he would not come within the provision. If the proposed concession meant that the Home Secretary desired to exclude from the operation of the clause all who were forced to flee from their country because of persecution on religious grounds the words were inept for the purpose. If, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to exclude such persons from the operation of the clause, the concession was illusory and not intended to have the effect desired by many Members on either side of the House. 1190 He therefore submitted that the Resolution before the House ought not to have been proposed, and that greater time should have been allowed in order that the measure might be properly discussed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The House has listened to the first speech of an hon. and learned Gentleman who has a deservedly high reputation in other spheres of activity and whose intervention in our debates I am sure all of us welcome. If I may venture a criticism, not upon the arguments which he advanced, but upon the appropriateness of the occasion on which he advanced them, I would almost suggest that the hon. and learned Member was so impressed with the short space of time to be given to the discussions of points in which he is interested that he has anticipated the debate of Monday, and made now the speech which he is afraid he will be excluded by this Resolution from making on that occasion. I do not quarrel with the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I raise no objection, except to say that I hope his example will not be followed in the course of the present debate.
There was one point in the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech which did not deal with the Bill, but which dealt with a subject more germane to the Amendment—namely, the shortcomings or the supposed shortcomings, of the Government in the management of public business, which, in the opinion of the hon. Member, had made the present Resolution necessary. He said the Government ought to have foreseen the length of the debates which would inevitably take place on this Bill, and should have taken such precautions in reference to those debates as to make any such special Resolution as we are now discussing wholly unnecessary. I think, if the hon. and learned Gentleman had longer experience of this Assembly, he would know that no Government can have the means of precisely gauging the length of time which a particular debate will take, nor have they the power of taking precautions to prevent the earlier debates thrusting into a too distant period the discussions on any particular measure. Take the present session. How was it 1191 possible for the Government to foresee that the discussions in Committee of Supply earlier in the year would be carried to the length to which they actually were? For my part, I do not deny that I think those discussions were far too long. They actually brought us within the verge of breaking the law which governs the financial relations of the country, and it was only by asking the House to take those very precautions which the hon. and learned Gentleman speaks of that we avoided that calamity. We did try to take precautions. We did our best to limit discussions in the early days of Supply, and how were we met? We were met by the Opposition spending two days in discussing the action we took and in doing their very best to prevent us from taking any precautions whatever against what we regarded as an unusual duration of debate: I do not complain of hon. Gentlemen opposite taking that course if they thought it desirable; but it is not fair criticism for hon. Gentlemen to insist on both having their cake and eating it. If they insist on prolonging the discussion on necessary business earlier in the session, the time we can devote to legislative business in the latter part of the session must be curtailed. For hon. Gentlemen to prolong the debates on the earlier stages of Supply, and to abuse the Government because they try to prevent that prolongation assuming too gigantic proportions, and then to abuse the Government for taking no precautions seems to me the maximum of injustice, and shows a total want of comprehension of the way in which business is and must be carried on under our existing rules of procedure.
Other strange criticisms were made on the conduct of the Government. For instance, the senior Member for Oldham said the proper method of dealing with the problem was to have all-night sittings on the Bill
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If that makes any difference, I apologise. To carry on the debates late into the night would, the 1192 hon. Gentleman thought, be so inconvenient to hon. Members that frivolous-Amendments would not be moved, and hon. Members would concentrate their whole attention on really important matters. I have had considerable experience of late sittings, and I have never seen this happy result arrived at. On the contrary, the very first thing that happens is that at about 12.30 or 12.45 some hon. Gentleman moves the adjournment, pointing with indignant fingers to the clock and saying that at that hour of the night it is impossible to discuss serious matters in proper a spirit. On discussing, this Motion hon. Members spend half or three-quarters of an hour; it can only be brought to a conclusion by closure, and in the division another quarter of an hour is lost. That is the way in which the hon. Gentleman apparently thinks we should have best provided for the quiet sober discussion of the really important matters in this Bill, and avoided all extraneous matters of controversy. When that is proposed by so important a Member on the other side—and it is the only remedy proposed by the Opposition—I think we may estimate the difficulty of the situation and the impossibility of finding any other solution than that which we propose.
There is one other point connected with the conduct of business. It was said that it would have been much wiser for the Government in the interests of discussion on this Bill to say beforehand how many days would be allowed for it, so that a better proportion could have been kept between the different clauses of the Bill, and the really important points brought into relief. I think that is undoubted. It is perfectly true that it would have been much better could the allocation have been made before the Committee stage instead of after it had gone on two or three days. But what would have been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite if, without proof from experience of the length of time which they thought necessary for the discussion of the Bill, I had said that five days only should be occupied by the Committee stage, and had asked the House to spend a day in arranging the compartments in which the Bill should be dealt with? 1193 That, of course, would have been an impossible situation, and I should not have been listened to for a moment. This is another instance of the way in which hon. Gentlemen opposite complain of the Government for not adopting remedies which they themselves would repudiate in the most vehement language were they not the authors of the suggestion. It must be remembered that we have already spent three days on the first clause. The second and third clauses, which are contained in the next compartment and will have to be dealt with on Monday, are non-controversial, and therefore practically the whole of Monday can, if hon. Gentlemen so desire, be devoted to the remainder of the first clause, the importance of which I am the last to deny. But surely four days in Committee is sufficient for the first clause of the Bill. On what proportion are you going to arrange your legislation if, in a Bill which is alleged to be of third-class importance, four days is not sufficient to deal with the first clause? You would never get through legislation at all if that were so. I am not prepared to admit that the time given is too little; but I would remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that, although questions which still have to be decided by the Committee on Clause I have not all been already discussed, a very great number of them have, and that perhaps the majority of the topics which will come up finally for decision in the course of Monday have already enjoyed a preliminary discussion.
On the wider issue of Home Rule all round raised by the hon. Member for Waterford, I need hardly say I do not mean to dwell; but I maybe allowed to express my opinion that whatever be the method of relieving this House of the duties which it insists on taking on itself, with regard to the discussion of Supply and other matters of Government criticism, it is vain to suppose that any delegation which would leave this House the legisative Chamber for the United Kingdom would have any effect in the way of lightening our labours That must be done, partly by the self-control of Members, and partly by some modification of our system. That we can do anything by such delegation is really a vain hope; 1194 hon. Gentlemen have only got to consider the topics which do occupy our time in a session—to go through them one by one and see whether they can do without this or that. Any candid investigator, in whatever direction he may look for relief, will discover that it is not in such practical changes as hon. Gentlemen appear to suggest.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said the Prime Minister had talked a good deal about the guillotine being inevitable, and some of them agreed with him in that, but the point was that he had not attempted to justify the guillotine in this particular instance. The guillotine might be inevitable, but it was an inevitable evil, and he felt perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman would admit that it was not a remedy which ought to be resorted to unless it was perfectly clear that there were no other means open to the Government of getting this Bill through. Consequently the Government ought to justify the Resolution now before the House. He did not notice in the speech of the Prime Minister any attempt to justify the application of this drastic Resolution to the particular measure before the House. The right hon. Gentleman never said a word about the House having met three weeks later than usual after a prolonged holiday. ["No, no!"] The House met about the second or third week in February, and it generally met in January. ["No."] The House generally met at the end of January if there was a big programme to put before it. Consequently the right hon. Gentleman sacrificed a fortnight or three weeks time which might have otherwise been devoted to measures of this kind. Everybody knew the reason why, for it was done deliberately. The Prime Minister promised his supporters when he invited them to attend more regularly that the work he would give them would not be very hard. That was the bargain he made with his supporters. Therefore, they were really paying to the extent of sacrificing Parliamentary institutions and efficiency for the political troubles of a Prime Minister who could not keep his supporters together. They would not stay late, and they would 1195 not come early, and the result was that the House of Commons had got to suffer, and precedents were being set up which future Governments would take advantage of. Every Government in the future would be pressed by its supporters to apply these precedents, and the pressure would be irresistible. The Prime Minister was setting up precedent after precedent which was really destroying Parliamentary discussion in that House.
He thought the Prime Minister ought to have made out some sort of a case, not necessarily of Parliamentary obstruction, but at any rate of overwhelming difficulty in carrying through this Bill without a Resolution of this sort. "What was the case? He had been going through the Amendments, and he found 110 of them were down in the names of hon. Members sitting on the other side of the House, and only thirty-four in the names of Members sitting on the Opposition side. It was really very bard that because the Notice Paper had teen overwhelmed by Amendments from the Ministerial side of the House the legitimate Opposition, upon whom devolved the duty of criticising Government measures, should be debarred from a full opportunity of discussion.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that, like the Prime Minister, he had not been present during the whole of the discussions upon this Bill, and consequently they were both dependent upon hearsay evidence. He had, however, another advantage over the Prime Minister, because he read the newspapers. One hon. Member opposite had got seventeen Amendments down and he had said that there would be plenty of time to discuss them. But what about the Amendments of other hon. Members? It was impossible to discuss a Bill of this magnitude in the two days placed at the disposal of the House by the Prime Minister.
What was the real reason for these guillotine Resolutions? He excepted the case of the Education Bill, but in regard 1196 to the others the Prime Minister had wasted the time in the first part of the session. He had made up his mind on one point only, namely, that the House must rise between the 11th and the 15th August, which meant the 12th. Having so many days to dispose of, he divided the time not with a view to the adequacy of the discussion but with a view to the exigencies of the 12th August. He thought the guillotine had come to stay until the House found some more rational and civilised method of getting through its business. But he did not think the time ought to be allocated by the Government of the day. That was a fatal error. The Government was bound to consider their own particular difficulties. There ought to be a Committee of Members of Parliamentary standing and experience, who should allocate the time for various measures. The Prime Minister had admitted that the House of Commons was quite incapable of passing more than one big controversial measure in the course of a session, and it could not give full discussion to that. That was an epoch-making admission and it would have great results. The Education Bill took a whole year, and there was no obstruction in the Parliamentary sense. It was perfectly clear that they could not carry even one big controversial measure without some sort of arrangement in the direction of what the Prime Minister described as self-control, and under which there would be no inducement for any Party to waste time. Another alternative was that if they were obliged to have Resolutions of this character they ought to be discussed on their merits. In such a Committee as he had suggested he agreed that they could not eliminate partisanship, but it would be something like the Committees upstairs and they would gradually get together a body of men who would acquire judicial traditions, and they would examine these Bills. In this way they would establish some sort of rule which would prevent Governments from setting up Resolutions such as this I and more especially such as the Resolution of last year. When they got some sort of tradition and rule they would be independent of Governments and of political considerations, and it would save the House at any rate from what 1197 was tantamount to a Parliamentary scandal in the way of preventing discussion.
He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford that all these expedients were really temporary and the difficulty was that they really had too much work on hand. What was the reason why they were not getting through the work this session? The Aliens Bill interested England, but it was not a real political problem in Wales. He was not sure that it interested Scotland, and it did not interest Ireland at all. There were, however, problems which affected Scotland and there were two Scottish Bills, and Scotch Members had declared themselves in favour of this Resolution in order to get more time to carry through the Scotch Bills. They wanted to give inadequate discussion to an English Bill in order to get adequate discussion for Scotch Bills. On these measures discussion would be carried on almost exclusively by Scotch Members and they would resent any interference by English or Welsh Members, whom they would accuse of introducing the controversial element. They knew how uncontroversial all Scotch topics were. Take the Scottish Church problem. That ought to be settled by Scotch Members, but they might have a discussion for a week or a fortnight, and consequently, because they insisted upon legislating upon things they did not understand and which would be better settled on the spot, the House was not allowed to discuss the Aliens Bill. They would probably never see the face of the Unemployed Bill again and they would not be allowed to touch the Workmen's Compensation Bill at all. It was really a most un businesslike proceeding for the representative House of the greatest commercial nation in the world. In Canada such questions as education and temperance were not dealt with by the Dominion Legislature, but by the local Legislatures and yet the was recently informed by prominent Canadian statesmen that the Dominion Legislature had enough work to occupy it for six months and often had arrears which were passed on to the next session. Devolution would not altogether settle the 1198 problem. Problems were never settled, in this world and that was what made it so interesting. At any rate, they appeared to be getting near, and, after all, they could do something better than this sort of futile thing which struck every new Member.
He was interested in the admirable speech of the hon. and learned Member for Reading. What struck him most of all was that this was a futile place to come to do work, and that was what struck every business man. Gradually they got accustomed to it; they got accustomed even to the Prime Minister, and that was what the people of this country could not understand. They almost wondered why physical force was not used towards him sometimes. They got accustomed to all this waste of time, while the business of the nation was not attended to. They had enormous problems on which the health, happiness, and comfort of millions of people depended, but they had to leave them all on one side because they could not find time to attend to them. They were attending to things that people did not want attended to and which could be much better attended to on the spot. No one knew it better than the Prime Minister himself. The right hon. Gentleman was handicapped by his Party. He had more than admitted the whole case for devolving work on local Assemblies. He, himself, was not quite certain that they would not always have these guillotine Resolutions which were crippling free debate. Hon. Members now on the Government Benches would be opposing Motions of this character in the course of two or three years, and no one with more fire than the Attorney-General, who would trot out all these speeches again with the same emphasis, and probably he would quote speeches delivered on this side of the House in criticism of this particular Resolution, and he would probably feel it too. At any rate, he was enough of an artist to do that. But this was really not getting on with business. [Laughter and cheers.] He was glad that hon. Members opposite agreed. Hon. Members opposite wanted to prevent business being done here. He was not making any observation in any sense offensive to them; if they were opposed to reform they did 1199 not want too much work done. No one was interested in the present state of things except those who had a vested interest in wrong and injustice in this country.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said his belief was that the House was perfectly competent for the performance of the business that properly belonged to it. He was firmly convinced that any such scheme as the hon. Gentleman opposite had suggested, namely, the handing over to a Committee the choice of business, and the constituting of a sort of permanent Committee of executioners, would be the most impracticable method of all. He thought they could pass only one big controversial Bill in a session. [Cries of "Oh !"] How many did they want? His belief was that that was quite enough. It was generally too much. The true business of Parliament was not to pass Acts of Parliament, but to deliberate upon them, and in nine cases out of ten to show that they ought not to be passed. If they wanted their one great measure passed, there was something, he admitted, to be said for the device of calling Parliament together very early in the year, say at the end of January, and introducing the big controversial measure immediately, or as soon as they could, and setting to work at once and prosecuting it to the end. There were Leaders of the House in the old days who managed that way, and who did pass very great measures without any power of closure, and without any compartmental guillotine. But they were riders who rode the House with a light touch, and found it unnecessary to resort to any of these terrific and drastic remedies.
The remedies of hon. Gentlemen opposite were counsels of despair. He confessed that he regarded this Resolution as the outcome of the counsels of violence. He did not think the system of compartmental closure by guillotine as applied in the past had been encouraging for the future. The last example was the Education Bill of 1902. In his opinion it was that alone which made the Bill unworkable, and the House of Commons otherwise could have made it workable. Although this Resolution would certainly 1200 be passed, he doubted whether it would get the majority of 132 by which that closure Resolution was carried in 1902. But if ever there was a Bill which required the work which the House did so well in Committee it was the Aliens Bill. In this Bill it was not so much the principle that was in question. That part of the measure which would exclude criminal and diseased aliens all Members in all parts of the House were agreed upon. Where the difficulty in this Bill came in was in rendering it workable. It was precisely there where the House of Commons had always had great success. If they allowed any sort of Bill to go through Committee of this House comparatively unclosured, whatever defects it might have, it would most undoubtedly be a workable Bill. That was why the Education Bill had proved so lamentably unworkable. The present Bill had been claimed as a first step towards protection. They had been told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that it was useless to keep out men unless they also kept out the articles they made, and that was to be done by the famous 10 per cent. on manufactured articles. He did not know whether his right hon. friend the Prime Minister admitted the claim that he was a convert to protection because this Bill was a first step inevitably to be followed by a second step towards protection. But it was believed by a good judge of protection to have that element in it. Therefore the Bill had another interest for himself.
This Resolution had a two-fold side. It involved closure, and it, more or less, directly involved protection. His small differences with His Majesty's Government had almost all turned on attempts to reduce the power, independence, and usefulness of this House. Any other differences had involved questions in regard to taxes on food. This Resolution involved both these points. The Resolution did undoubtedly diminish the power of the House, and, as he should show, it did other things of an entirely novel character. For the first time a Motion of this sort dealt with the Chairman of Ways and Means. The House knew that the Chairman of Ways and Means had great authority. He had power when private business was set down at a morning sitting, absolutely to settle at what 1201 evening sitting it should be taken. His power extended even to the evening sitting, which was allocated to Supply in contradiction of the Order on that subject. This Resolution interfered with tine Chairman's inherent right to put down private business at an evening sitting because it prescribed that no opposed private business should be set down on the dates mentioned. He did not know whether that would be attempted to be justified when they came to it. There was another thing that was new in this Resolution. In all previous Resolutions of this kind a proviso had been made that the closure power should only be applied when the Bill set down was the first order of the day. That was not stated here, and it was conceivable that the result might be that on the first Monday, if the Aliens Bill was set down as second, third, or fourth order, it might not be reached until a late hour at night, and after an hour's discussion it might be closured. In all probability the Prime Minister did not mean that. He supposed the right hon. Gentleman would not object to put in words carrying out his intention.
There was one other very grave objection to compartmental closure. The Government assumed that nobody had any knowledge of the Bill but the Government, that nobody had any brains but the Government, that nobody was capable of conceiving an Amendment to the Bill but the Government, and that no other Member could have an Amendment which should be voted on. The Government made the reservation that their Amendments were to be voted on without debate, and that no other body's Amendments were to be voted on. It seemed to him possible that there might be some Members in the House as able as the Home Secretary. They might expect the Government, at any rate, if a Member had drawn an Amendment, to allow it to be voted upon. This closure Resolution was one more confession of the failure of the 1902 rules which were to settle everything.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said the right hon. Gentleman stated that the rules 1202 would shorten debate. He made that statement not in a speech, but in reply to an hon. Member opposite. The rules had not had the effect of shortening debate. The argument for this Resolution was that the debates on the Aliens Bill would go on at interminable length. He very sincerely regretted that his right, hon. friend had thought it necessary to introduce this instrument of torture by which the debating of the Bill was to be prevented.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
said he had come to the conclusion that the speech delivered that afternoon by the Prime Minister was one of the most important they had ever heard even from him. He agreed with the hon. Member for the Carnarvon Boroughs that this was not exactly business, and he would ask the Prime Minister whether he would not endeavour to modify the Resolution in order to meet the objections which had been levelled against it. It had been pointed out that a better arrangement would have been to introduce the Bill at an earlier part of the session. Why was the Bill not put down for Second Reading before Whitsuntide? The right hon. Gentleman had told the House how few days had been devoted to legislation. The right hon. Gentleman could have arranged differently, and he could easily have provided a few more days than those which he had given. If this Resolution was passed what chance would there be for any concession being made to the Opposition as the Bill proceeded? The whole proceedings would be automatic. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would think that it would be foolish to yield anything to the Opposition because he knew that, when the inevitable hour came, he would get the section of the Bill. He did think that when a severe and drastic rule of this kind was adopted the House was put in a most unsatisfactory position. He wished to remind the Prime Minister that it had been pointed out that with the best of intentions it would be impossible for the House to get through the mass of business allotted for the first day under the closure scheme. There was the remainder of Clause 1 to be settled, and then there was Clause 2 which dealt with 1203 the immigration board, and Clause 3 with which they were in agreement with the Government. But if the right hon. Gentleman took advantage of that agreement to hope that a long clause would go through without a single opinion being expressed regarding it, he was labouring under a misapprehension. It would be impossible for the House to deal adequately with all the great questions involved in the first day's work.
This proposal was very different to any closure proposals previously moved. The Prime Minister was taking a second great revolutionary step with regard to the business of the House. The first step was the automatic closure of Supply. The right hon. Gentleman had worked that closure for ten years and the result was that he had been able to place an increased expenditure on the backs of the people of this country. He had introduced an era of extravagance such as the country had never before witnessed. In time they would have a Standing Order under which every Bill with no more than three clauses would be closured on the first day; one with any thing from three to eight clauses would be closured in five days; and a Bill with any-number of clauses exceeding eight would only be allowed ten days for discussion. If the closure were introduced in this way the result would be that opposition to the measure would break out in the country after the Bill had been passed and there would be a recrudescence of legislation such as the British House of Commons had never yet had to face. The Education Bill was closured by compartments, and during the first year that it was in force there were 22,000 prosecutions for breaking the law, whilst in the second year the number of prosecutions rose to 32,000. The number of people imprisoned during the first year for resisting the Education Act was twenty-four and that number increased to 189 in the second year. That was the sort of trouble caused by unduly closuring debate.
A great deal had been said about the Amendments put down by hon. Gentlemen opposite; but he thought that should be placed to their credit. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon had made a most useful con- 1204 tribution to the debate, and he hoped other hon. Members sitting behind the Prime Minister would follow that example. Most of the opposition had come from the Government Benches and was based on the ground that the proposals could not be worked. He was bound to say that the interference of the Attorney-General had not up to the present been either happy or useful, but then it had to be remembered that a lawyer could not grasp business subtleties. This was not the first Bill they had seen upon the alien question. There was the Bill of last year which they were told was like a page of Holy Writ, and to oppose it was a piece of wickedness. That Bill had gone and another measure, perhaps also of inspiration, but formed on quite different lines to last year's Bill, had been brought them. The immigrant ship which was absent from the Bill of last year sailed across every page of this year's measure, and the expenses which last year were to be thrown upon the State were now to be borne by the shipowner. Some-supporters of the Government who professed to represent the shipowners were subservient enough to accept that liability; but they were not entitled to speak for the British shipowners. Then the Prime Minister had not listened to the debate for the first two days, but he looked in on the third day with the closure Resolution in his pocket. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to promise as much time as he could give for the discussion, and if he would go to the further length of saying he would meet one or two criticisms from that side of the House in a friendly spirit he would facilitate the proceedings. They did not oppose all parts of the Bill, and the question remained, whether it was not wise for the Government to take what they could get, and, if that was not sufficient for the purposes of the country, to amend the Bill hereafter.
§ MR. SHACKLETON (Lancashire, Clitheroe)
understood that the object of the Prime Minister's proposal was to cut down the time for discussion and to make certain of one measure this year. He could quite conceive that the action of the Opposition on the Second 1205 Reading debate might give rise to an idea that the country wanted the Bill, but the only construction to be placed on such an idea was that if the Opposition only gave the Government plenty of rope they would hang themselves. It was a great mistake to think the country wanted this Bill. When a measure was being pressed forward by the Government at the desire of the people, it was usual to find a number of deputations from the people interested, but in this case no organisation of workmen had so far expressed an opinion in favour of the measure. In fact, all the evidence went to show that the workmen of the country were against it. The Government were pressed for time and proposed to cut out some of the most important Amendments on the Paper. Two-thirds of those Amendments were framed by the supporters of the Government, and if those hon. Members were honest in their endeavour to improve this Bill they would oppose the Government on this proposal. No opportunity was to be given to re representatives of workmen to debate the questions of contract labour. If the Government had been as anxious to press forward the Workmen's Compensation Act he would have supported them. That measure was mentioned in both last and this year's King's speeches, but no opportunity was to be given to pass the Bill, although support was accorded on all sides to the Home Secretary when he introduced it. Then the Chief Secretary for Ireland had been brought face to face with the problem of the unemployed and had realised that something must be done, but no step was to be taken to put the right hon. Gentleman's good intentions into law this year. He should do his best with the other Labour Members to fight against the proposals of the Government in this matter.
§ MR. CHURCHILL (Oldham)
desired to offer his sincere congratulations to the Prime Minister, first, upon the general tone and temper of the debate, and in the second place because it had been one of the best days in the whole session for the right hon. Gentleman, who usually re- 1206 garded Parliamentary business as being very dull. The right hon. Gentleman looked upon the hours spent in the House as a spell upon the Parliamentary treadmill, and as part of the purchase price of office and power. There was one exception to the right hon. Gentleman's dislike to the House of Commons, and that was on an occasion when a guillotine Resolution had to be introduced. Supply was tedious, votes of censure were annoying, Irish debates the right hon. Gentleman had heard so often before; he detested reference to a matter before a Judicial Committee, and he could not bear to hear anything relating to the fiscal question, but only let some proposal for restricting debate be put before the House, and the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly delighted. He was to be found in his place from the beginning to the end of the debate, which he took under his own especial charge, and there was no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman that day had been thoroughly pleased with the work upon which he had been engaged, and with the general tenour and course of the debate.
He (Mr. Churchill) would like to point out that progress under the Bill would have been quicker if it had been better drafted. They had discovered some palpable absurdities, such as the question of the exclusion of cabin passengers from the operation of the Bill, and the taking of immigrants into this country who had been rejected by America. There were in this Bill gross flaws, to discover which it did not require any factious or partisan spirit. Delay had also been caused by the statistics brought forward in support of the Bill. He would like to impress upon the Prime Minister that there was a real opposition to this Bill in the country, and. particularly so in that part of the country represented by the Prime Minister. There was a real and earnest opposition in the constituency of Manchester. A meeting was held there the other day, presided over by a Conservative candidate, and supported by a number of Conservative Members, at which Amendments to the Bill were advocated, and it was particularly significant that although the meeting was not 1207 unfavourable to the general idea of keeping out aliens, it was of opinion that this Bill might be improved. In face of the opposition displayed, which was clearly above partisanship, it was a little unseemly that rumours had been rife in the Press and the lobby that at the very earliest moment the Government would impose the guillotine proposals.
It had been pointed out that the Prime Minister was responsible for the difficulty in which the House found itself. He would not attempt to elaborate the point, because it had been clearly put before them, but, when they considered how frequently the guillotine was now resorted to, no one could help asking how it was that in sessions which were exceptionally light in a legislative programme it was always necessary to fall back on these very drastic measures. The First Lord of the Treasury had changed his opinion very much on the subject of the closure since 1883. The right hon. Gentleman was then one of the most strenuous opponents to it. He remembered ten years ago listening to a speech by the right hon. Gentleman, in which he denounced the iniquity of the closure, but now he had overcome all those scruples. He (Mr. Churchill) was far from saying that the conclusion was altogether a wrong one. He was in agreement with the hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who had advocated the adoption of a time-table on all Bills, to be regulated by a Committee sitting upstairs. That plan would be brought very much nearer by the action of the Prime Minister that day. He did not think they would lose very much by the application of this guillotine proposal. The Bill would go to the country in the shape of an unworkable measure and there were not wanting signs of a transference of power. The life of this Government was drawing to a close. This unworkable Bill would have to be administered by another Government, and the procedure which had been attacked—
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.