§ MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)
said he wished to raise a point of order. He was sorry that he could not give earlier notice of his intention to raise this objection to the Motion of the Prime Minister, but it took a very considerable time to go through the fifty-eight or fifty-nine recorded cases of alteration of the Standing Orders in order to see what the practice had been in all except four such matters. In the recorded cases of either new Standing Orders or amendment of Standing Orders the matter had been taken on the Report of a Select Committee. There were, however, cases recorded in which the procedure had been similar to that now being adopted. In 1901 and 1902 the matter was dealt with on that footing, but in every other reported case the practice had been to submit to the House the Standing Order which it was proposed to amend or repeal. He submitted that that practice ought to be adhered to. In the second place, in every alteration or insertion of words, the practice seemed to have been to effect it by way of amendment of the existing Standing Order. Therefore, if the Prime Minister's Motion was simply one to alter one of the existing Standing Orders, it should be brought before the House by way of Amendment and not by way of Resolution. The practice had also been that if a new Standing Order was proposed, or was submitted in substitution of an existing Standing Order, the first Resolution was, the existing Standing Order having been read, that the House should repeal it. That difficulty seemed to have occurred to those who were making the present proposals, because on the Notice Paper it was suggested that they should repeal Standing Order 46; and there were also further Amendments to follow making a considerable number of alterations in Standing Order 47.The House would find itself in a very peculiar position if the Motion of the Prime Minister were passed and they had not repealed Standing Order 46. The effect would be that they would have two perfectly inconsistent Standing Orders a very anomalous position. One suggested answer to his point of order was that if the two existing Standing Orders were repealed 887 and the new one was not accepted by the House they would find themselves in the difficulty of having no Standing Order upon the point involved. But that was nothing like so serious a difficulty as would arise from having two perfectly inconsistent Standing Orders at one and the same moment. That difficulty arose, as would be observed by anyone who read the Standing Orders, when some years ago they repealed a portion of a Standing Order and put nothing in its place. His point of order was that the invariable practice should be followed, and that Standing Orders 46 and 47 should be repealed. Then. if the House consented, they should take the new Standing Order proposed by the Prime Minister, which would take the place of Standing Orders 46 and 47, and there would be an opportunity of moving Amendments. Unless that practice were followed they could not have a Second Reading debate on the whole proposition such as they ought to have. The Amending of the Standing Orders of the House was a most important proceeding, and it ought to be carried out in accordance with established practice.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member raises three points. The first is whether the Standing Order, which it is proposed to repeal, ought to be read as from the Table. The hon. Member says that on looking at the Journals he finds that this has always been the case. As a matter of fact what he has found are entries of the Standing Orders having been read. For a great number of years the Standing Orders have always been taken as read; ever since Members have been able to read, or ever since they were printed and available, it has been unnecessary formally to read from the Table the words of the Standing Order. If the hon. Member looks to-morrow, or later, he will find in to-day's proceedings that the Standing Order will have been entered as having been read. The hon. Member's second point is that the Prime Minister ought to have moved the repeal of the Standing Order to which he objects, and then asked the House to enact a new one. That is not the procedure followed in the Committee Stage of a Bill. There an Amendment is made, and subsequently anything 888 which stands in the Bill and which is inconsistent with the Amendment which is made at an earlier stage of the Bill, is struck out. The inconsistent parts are not struck out first before the new parts are inserted; and it seems to me that the procedure which the Prime Minister proposes would really be much the more convenient to the House than that of which the hon. Member gives an example—the inconvenience of first repealing before you enact afresh. It seems to me that the better course is first of all, for the House to agree upon that which it wants inserted in the Standing Orders, and then subsequently that part of the Standing Orders which is inconsistent with what the House has agreed upon, can be struck out; because if first of all you struck out that which you do not like, there might be difficulty in agreeing upon that which you wish to insert, and, therefore, a blank would be made.
§ MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD
Of course, if we were considering this in Committee there would be no possible answer, Sir, to what you are laying down. But it is not being considered in Committee; it is in the House.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I do not think that really alters the desirability of the procedure which I have indicated, which seems to me to be simpler and better. The third point raised by the hon. Member is what opportunity is there for the House having anything in the nature of a Second Reading debate. Following the precedent which has obtained of late years, I do not propose to object to a Second Reading debate taking place on the statement of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will make his proposals, and those proposals as a whole will then be open to the observations of hon. Members of the House, and after the debate has continued for some little time, or when it has exhausted itself, then the House will approach the Amendments.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
There will be no question on which a division can be 889 taken, but the hon. Member will have an opportunity of dividing when the question arises of the new Standing Order, as amended, being made a Standing Order of the House.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OR THE TREASURY (Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, Stirling Burghs)
There is one point, and I think one point only, on which I agree with the hon. Member opposite—that this is a very important business which we are undertaking to-day. We have no desire to underrate at all what may be expected to be the effect of the changes which I am going to propose to the House. I believe these changes to be salutary and capable of giving new life and vigour to the House to a degree that we may not be able yet to realise. At the same time, I quite admit that, like all changes of this kind in our procedure, they are necessarily of an experimental kind; and I hope that they will be treated without any partisan feeling, and that we shall all endeavour to regard the terms of these proposals with a view to the interest of the House of Commons, of Parliament and of legislation, and not on the ground of any prejudices or preconceived opinions of our own. I propose to ask the House that the number of the Standing Committees shall be increased. I ask the House to add to the work of the Standing Committees, to free their hands, and to give greater regularity to their procedure. By all these means, I believe, we shall increase their efficiency and their authority. These proposals will take from the House, in the main, the duty of detailed examination of measures of legislation. At present a Bill is considered by what we know as a Committee of the Whole House. If one looks back into history, I think it will be proved that in earlier days Bills were often committed to very small numbers of Members indeed. The House lapsed only in comparatively recent times into this habit of referring Bills to Committees of the Whole House. It is a practice contrary, I believe, to that adopted in the legislative Assemblies of almost all other countries. Certainly in France, and in the United States, the work of the great body of the Chamber is relieved by the delegation to par- 890 ticular Committees of the details of measures which have received the assent of the whole Parliament. And as our system at present works it really operates as an absolute hindrance and limit to the amount of work that this House can get through. I think it does more. To a large extent it takes the heart out of Members of this House, because they waste their energies, day after day, having really comparatively little to do except to listen; and they would have greater interest in the high duties they have to perform here, and they would be stimulated altogether in their capacity as Members of the legislative Assembly, if they were, to a much greater extent, brought face to face in their individual capacity with the details of measures in Committees upstairs. That is the theory on which, at all events, we proceed. The fact that something of that sort is required was, of course, acknowledged when the Standing Committees were erected some years ago. They were regarded with considerable jealousy and alarm by certain Members of the House; but, as I have said, although that was a new departure at the time, it was only a revival of the old traditional practice of the House. In asking the House to increase the number of Standing Committees and to facilitate the remission of Bills for their consideration, we are only seeking to enlarge the relief which has been given to the House and to make more effective and more authoritative the action of the House with regard to the details of legislation. No one will dispute the fact that the Standing Committees have worked exceedingly well. We believe that they will work better when. as we propose, their proceedings are assimilated to those which are familiar of the House itself. At present the Chairman of a Standing Committee has really very little power. I speak with personal knowledge, because I was the first Chairman of a Standing Committee, now more than ten years ago, I think, who ventured to apply the closure. A certain half-dozen Members, or not so many, were by Amendments skilfully drawn, and by speeches eloquently delivered, prolonging the proceedings, and this went on hour after hour, and day after day to the despair of almost everyone. I 891 consulted Mr. Speaker Peel, and—I do not know who has the credit of originating it—we invented a theory which answered our purpose, that there was an inherent right in any Chairman to secure the order and reasonable proceedings of the body over which he presided. I applied this inherent right, and the first men to congratulate me were the three or four Members who had been obstructing, and who said, I think, that they were at an absolute loss to know what would have become of them if I had not interfered for their relief. That fact impressed upon my memory the absolute necessity not only of a real power of applying the closure, but of giving to the Chairman something like the same powers as reside in the Speaker and the Chairman in this House. Now, Sir, we propose to alter the Rules of Procedure in a case like this. We propose that instead of a Bill being referred to a Standing Committee by a Resolution of the House, it shall go, as a matter of course, to a Standing Committee, unless the House shall otherwise direct. That will be, as I believe, a great reform of the proceedings of Parliament. There may be Bills, I do not believe there will be many in a session, which the House will desire to retain in its own hands from first to last. The other Bills will go to the Standing Committees and, having been dealt with there will, on their return, be considered on the Report Stage by the House sitting in its full capacity. In one respect, at all events, I think we are assured of the support of the Leader of the Opposition, because in his evidence before the Select Committee on Procedure, he said—It seems to me that a great blot, or the greatest of all blots, upon our procedure at this moment, is the fact that session after session goes by and Bills to which nobody, or very few, really object on their merits, are handed on from session to session, and perhaps from Government to Government, without becoming law. No political credit is to be got out of them, no Government loses by not opposing them; the people who lose are the public or the Civil Servants. If we were to earmark those Bills for Committee, I should think that one of the greatest reforms ever carried out, if it could be effected.I hope that this change will have the effect of accomplishing what the right hon. Gentleman desires. I do not know that 892 in every case he will be satisfied about the earmarking; but, at any rate, if we pass these new rules which I am proposing, Bills will pass much more freely than they have hitherto passed through the House. Criticism directed against the scheme appears to me to fall chiefly under three heads. The source to which I turn for those objections is in the evidence of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who defines what they are. The first is that the difficulty in the way of such a scheme is that the Government possess insufficient control over the proceedings of the Committees; secondly, that the resources of the House, in point of numbers and of time, are unequal to the demand that will be made upon them, and that our proceedings will tend to suffer, if not in authority, at all events in efficiency; and, thirdly, that economies of time effected in Committee would be lost on Report. I believe that these difficulties are not so serious as at first sight they may appear. Take first the control of the Government. It is said that a serious demand will be made upon members of the Government. According to the scheme which I submit to the House, one of the Committees would be a Scottish Committee. I am not speaking now of the advantage or disadvantage of that proposal, but one of the Committees will be a Scottish Committee. We have the Secretary for Scotland, the Lord Advocate, and the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who are an ample staff for the conduct of the Scottish Committee. There will be two Committees to which Government Bills will be referred, and one for private Members' Bills. Private Members' Bills do not require such assiduous attention on the part of the Government, and they could always have an opportunity of considering them at a later stage. But for the other two Committees, Ministerial heads of departments and their under-secretaries, and the two law officers might, I think, very well face, without much difficulty, that part of their duty. Then there is the difficulty which, it is alleged, we shall find adequately to man the new Committees. That, after all, is the most formidable criticism that has been offered. The right hon. Gentleman gave some very alarming figures to the Select Committee about the demand 893 made upon the House. I have his calculations here. He took four Grand Committees with eighty Members each, making a total of 320; then he took the twenty-nine Select Committees which he found to be sitting at the time, and he multiplied the twenty-nine Committees by fifteen—which was the ordinary maximum number of Members of each Select Committee—and that gave a total of 435. Adding the 320 and the 435, he got the alarming total of 755. Now, as this House consists of only 670 Members there was a deficiency which might well stagger one. But if the right hon. Gentleman's figures were correct, and if it were to be the case, as he implies, that every single Member sitting on the Committees was available for nothing else, and Members, so to speak, were absorbed and drained dry by the Committees, there would be nothing more to be said. But it is not so. Let me give the House the actual figures for last session. To begin with, instead of twenty-nine Select Committees there were only twenty, and the average number of Members was twelve, and not fifteen. Twelve twenties are 240, as against 435 which the right hon. Gentleman calculated. But these Committees did not sit the whole session, or anything like it. I have looked into the Returns on the subject, and I find that, taking the Standing Committees and the Select Committees, they sat, on an average, only seventeen days each—seventeen days out of a session which began in February and ended with December. So that there is a pretty fair margin of time, so far as the new Standing Committees are concerned. I have a few more figures. Last year was a year of almost unexampled pressure, but notwithstanding that fact I find that there were 207 Members who served on no Committee whatever. There were 244 who served on one; 104 on two; thirty-eight on three; thirteen on four; and one, the champion of all, who attended five. He was the hon. Member for East Clare. I do not know whether it was due to his natural desire for work, or to the much more natural desire of the Committee to have him among them. I have looked up the facts, and I find that he attended on no more than fifty-nine days during the session, after all, with all his five 894 Committees. I think that goes to show that the resources of the House of Commons are by no means exhausted, and that there are plenty of hon. Members ready and willing to man the Committees which we propose to establish.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E.)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has included Private Bill Committees?
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Yes. I have the figures for the Private Bill Committees. About 100 Members sat on Private Bill Committees. Take the right hon. Gentleman's estimate, which I am not quite disposed to do, of the Members serving on Grand Committees at 320, and take the Select Committees at twelve each. The Members serving on the Select Committees are therefore 240. Then take those serving on Private Bill Committees, they are 100. Those altogether make 660, which still leaves a narrow margin. But appearances are deceptive, because the time occupied by Standing Committees and Select Committees last session was seventeen days, and that occupied by Private Bill Committees eight days Undoubtedly, therefore, it can be done, and done easily, and the effect will be that a larger period of time of Members will be spent in Committees. There may be many days when there is comparatively little legislative work to be done in the House of Commons itself. Is that undesirable if the work is being better done and more closely examined in a Standing Committee? I do not know that a little leisure during the sittings of this House is an undesirable thing to contemplate. It was suggested by one right hon. Gentleman whom hon. Members opposite regard with great respect, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, that it would be a good plan for the House of Commons to omit one day's sitting a week. I do not know whether that would be considered an advantage or a disadvantage; but how much more like the procedure of similar Assemblies in other countries would it be. But I believe the sense of active participation in the business of legislation, and the sense of being fully occupied in public work, instead of, shall I say, purely idling, or at all events not 895 being occupied in public work, in the library or the newspaper room, would have a considerable effect in satisfying hon. Members that they were really of service to the public, and in provoking, in time, that desire to be useful in the public service, which I know exists, and which, I know, at the present time, finds little means of employment. That is the general scheme we have in view. I have endeavoured to speak of it as plainly and as effectively as I can. I think the present system is intolerable to everybody. I admit that this is an experiment, and I admit it is a very considerable change; but I believe it to be a thoroughly good change, a change in the right direction, and one calculated to redound to the advantage of the country and the credit of the House of Commons. I do not know whether now, as I have not moved anything and am only making a general statement, I should say a few words with reference to the Scottish Committee, which is a little outside this scheme. It stands on another footing. We have had experience of it before. We had a Scottish Committee many years ago for two years, and it did admirable work. I do not think any fault was found with the manner in which it conducted the business entrusted to it. It gave great satisfaction in Scotland, where we have different laws and different religious organisations and different hopes and aspirations. We differ in many ways from England, and what my countrymen have complained of every session that I have been in Parliament is that the opinion of Scottish Members is over-ridden in the lobbies by the opinions and votes of Englishmen, and that this is unfair, and vitiates, from the Scottish point of view, the progress of Scottish legislation. I think great contentment as well as great advantages will be given to Scotland, and considerable relief will be afforded to this House, if we revive the old Committee of Scottish Members, and say that all Scottish Bills shall be referred to that Committee. For that proposal much can be said, and some things that can be said against it will come out. It is a plain proposal which I shall take an opportunity of laying before the House. I will not complicate the matter by bringing in the question of Ireland. I do not know that there is any desire for 896 an Irish Committee, and although Welsh Members may desire to have their views expressed and every weight given to their strong opinions in Committee, there is very seldom a purely Welsh Bill brought before the House, and, therefore, they are not in the same position as Scotland. As I say, I have put as plainly as possible before the House our views and intentions and the reason why we propose this change, which I admit is an enormous change in our procedure, and I now leave it to the judgment of the House. I beg to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed—
- (1) When a Bill has been read a second time it shall stand committed to one of the Standing Committees, unless the House, on Motion to be decided without Amendment or debate, otherwise order. But this Order shall not apply to—
- (a) Bills for imposing taxes, or Consolidation Fund or Appropriation Bills; or
- (b) Bills for confirming Provisional Orders.
- (2) The House may, on Motion made by the Member in charge of a Bill, commit the Bill to a Standing Committee in respect of some of its provisions, and to a Committee of the whole House in respect to other provisions. If such a Motion is opposed the Speaker, after permitting, if he thinks fit, a brief explanatory statement from the Member who makes, and from the Member who opposes, the Motion, shall, without further debate, put the Question thereon.—(Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman has made a very wide proposal in a very conciliatory speech couched in very moderate language, but he has not attempted to minimise the greatness or wide bearing of the change he proposes. I do not defend our existing procedure or contend that it is in all respects satisfactory. I think there is great room for improvement, and I hope we may enter into and carry through this discussion in its details, as well as in its principles, in the non-Party spirit for which the right hon. Gentleman has 897 expressed the hope. By that I mean that I hope when we come to deal with this matter in detail we shall find that elasticity and willingness on the part of the Government to meet reasonable objections that may be urged which is always associated with a non-Party debate. I wish I could welcome the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has made. They are in the main three. The first is to increase the number of Grand Committees from two to four. The second is that, with certain narrow exceptions, all Bills should be referred to these Committees unless otherwise ordered. The third is that a Scottish Committee shall be established, to which Scottish Bills shall be referred. There are minor proposals to which the right hon. Gentleman only referred in passing, dealing with the enlargement of the powers and the widening of the procedure of Committees upstairs. I do not propose to deal with those, as only once, I think, during the fifteen or sixteen years of my Membership of this House have I, owing to various circumstances, sat on a Grand Committee, and, therefore, I have a very limited experience of Grand Committees. I do not, therefore, propose to discuss this question, in the main, from the point of view of the Committees upstairs, but from the point of view of the House itself. What is the difficulty that meets us in our proceedings? It is worth while to ask that question before considering the remedy. The remedy which the Government suggests is based on the assumption that the House has insufficient time to do its work. I submit that it is not so; that it has sufficient time, but that it is badly allocated to the various matters which the House has to discuss. Much of it is wasted. Trifling details often occupy a vast amount of time, and Bills, in themselves non-contentious, often become contentious not because of what they contain, but because of the place they occupy in the programme of business. If we could sift the non-contentious business from the contentious, and allocate the time of the House between the two classes of business, I venture to say that the time of the House, in a reasonable session, would be quite sufficient for all the House has to do. In my view, therefore, it is not that the 898 House of Commons has not sufficient time to deal with its business, but that its time is ill distributed. That is at the root of our difficulty. The proposals which the Prime Minister makes do not affect the distribution of our time for the better. I think the Government are proceeding on wrong lines. I do not say that it is easy to devise practical measures which would carry out such a scheme as my observations have pointed to. I do not at all minimise the difficulty, but I think something could be done. The first effort made to put some limit to the time which might be spent on a single question was through the closure. We all know that for a complicated and contentious Bill—a Bill which any large section means to fight line by line and word by word—the closure is an inefficient instrument, unless you are prepared, as sometimes you ought to be, to give practically the whole of a session to the passage of one Bill, as was done by Sir William Harcourt and the Government of which the Prime Minister was a member at the time of the famous Budget Bill which brought about a revision of the death duties. The closure was never moved, and practically the whole time of the House during that session was given to that one great measure. There are occasions on which that ought to be done, and when no less time is sufficient in which to discuss the important questions raised by a great measure. But trusting to the closure alone has, in the case of a great and complicated measure arousing fierce opposition, broken down, and has been proved to be insufficient for the conduct of our debates with due expedition; and accordingly from the simple closure we moved to closure by compartments. It may be said that as the time to be spent on the whole Bill, and on certain sections, is allocated in that way, closure by compartments does carry out the idea which I have in my mind. But it has always been my opinion that that procedure is vitiated by the fact that the decision as to what the time shall be allotted to is in each case the arbitrary decision of the Government, of course subject to the acceptance of their proposals by the majority of the House of Commons of the day. But that is practically no check. The Government have to make up their mind what time 899 they think it reasonable that the discussion of a certain Bill should take, and then the House practically accepts the limit so arbitrarily fixed by them. What I think the Government ought to have done, instead of taking Bills away from the purview of the House in their Committee stage, was to try to develop some machinery for allocating the time of the House, not arbitrarily, and at the mere fiat of the Government, as is done under the closure by compartments, but by an impartial Committee of the House chosen somewhat on the lines of the Committee of Selection, or the Public Accounts Committee. I say the Public Accounts Committee, because I think there is a precedent there which ought to be followed in a case of this kind—the precedent that the Chairman shall always be a Member of the Opposition, not acting as a Party man. The House ought to be so jealous of its privileges and liberties that it should contain a majority in Committee rather of Members of the Opposition than of those who have a majority, for the moment, in the House itself. I do not say that such a scheme is easy to make, but I do say that I would infinitely sooner travel along these lines, and make some sacrifice in order to obtain that object, than along lines or make sacrifices to attain the object which is embodied in the Motion proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. He proposes to double the number of Grand Committees. I think there are many objections to that. I venture, with all respect, to say that he has made far too light of the burden and strain which will be imposed on Members of the House. I do not know what the views of the House generally are on the subject. I have once or twice said in the House that I am, in one sense, a professional politician. I have given up practically the whole of my life to politics. This House is my first care and my first business, and I can practically devote to the service of the House the whole of the time that is required for that purpose. I think I may say that, with the exception of last year, when special circumstances caused me to be absent, I have devoted very steady attention to the business of the House. I think that for the first ten years I sat in Parliament I did not dine out of the House five times in a year, when the 900 House was sitting at dinner-time. Therefore, I do not appeal to the House as a lazy man, or one who is not zealous for the service of the House. I think it is of great importance for the House, perhaps of greater importance than ever before, having regard to the increasing interference of Government and of Parliament by legislation in the business affairs of the country, that we should not make the service of the House so onerous that men who cannot give their whole time to it cannot afford to be members of it at all. Let me take some illustrations. We are often inclined to chaff legal Members on their intervention in debate, but who can say that in this House, and in the discussion of legislation in Committees upstairs, we can afford to be without constant advice from the legal Members of the House on the many complicated questions of law which arise? We have had a discussion where no law officer has been in charge of a Bill in Committee upstairs, and where the law officers have been absent during the debate here, and time has been wasted by the hour for the want of the legal direction which only experts can give. But there are a large number of Members of this House who have been at one time or another, and a considerable number who still are, active in the local life in the part of the country in which they live, as members of county councils or borough councils, or serving in one of the many capacities in which men of leisure, and light and leading, are called upon to serve in their various districts. That is a class most valuable to us in this House. We are constantly imposing new duties on local authorities and new charges on the local ratepayers, and the guidance of men who have personal experience, of the practical working of our schemes and theories is invaluable. Then there is the class of businessmen who have a certain amount of leisure, and who are now glad and proud to devote a portion of that leisure to the service of their country in Parliament; but they can only do that if at the same time they can maintain control over the businesses with which their whole position is bound up, and for the credit of which they are responsible. I have said nothing of the Labour Members, but not because I do not think it 901 is very desirable that we should have what I call direct labour representatives in this House. I think it is very desirable that we should. I do not know how this question affects them, or how far they have other occupations which demand their attention during a portion of the day. I can quite understand that what I say may apply equally to them. I think I carry with me the feeling of the House when I say that the country would be worse governed if you excluded, in any considerable number, the classes of people of whom I have spoken from the possibility of giving service as Members of this House. But you propose to double the number of Grand Committees. You are to have four Grand Committees sitting in addition to all the Select Committees and private Bill Committees. In addition there are such calls as may be made upon Members for sitting on Royal Commissions and Departmental Committees. All those duties are to be discharged by Members in addition to their duties in attending this House. What will happen? What does happen even now? The Prime Minister talks as if every Member of the House were available for service on the Grand Committees; but they are not. By the custom of the House no lawyers are available for service on the Grand Committees, and in the case of all Committees upstairs lawyers are habitually excused, because to enforce on them regular attendance on those Committees, as everyone knows, would drive them out of the House, unless they could afford to abandon the practice of their profession. [An Hon. Member: A good job too.] There are many others who might be able to give a certain amount of attendance, but who cannot sit regularly on these Grand Committees. It is within the knowledge of Members of the House that when there are only two Committees sitting it is not an infrequent thing to be unable to proceed with business for want of a quorum. If you multiply the demands you will naturally be still more constantly unable to find a sufficient number of Members. What happens under these circumstances? When Members of a Grand Committee have other calls upon their time, and when they have no particular interest in a Bill, they absent 902 themselves if they can. Many a Bill is left to be considered in Committee by a little knot—I do not want to use offensive terms, and yet I hardly know how to describe the position—of men strongly prejudiced in favour of some particular course on some narrow issue. If you have a Bill which is ordinarily described as a "fad Bill," every one who is interested in the fad will be there. I am not suggesting that all the faddists are on one side of the House. I have my own fads. But all the faddists would be there, and would be represented out of all proportion to the Members who stand for the general common sense of the House. I am opposed to legislation by experts, but I am equally opposed to legislation by faddists. I think that the best legislation is that which is decided by the common sense of the House after hearing the opinions of the experts and the faddists. Sometimes these make a valuable contribution to our discussions, but it will be a bad day when we are guided in our legislation by them alone. By this scheme you will put too great a strain on the ordinary Members of the House, deteriorate the composition of the Grand Committees, and the work of legislation will be less satisfactory than at present. The Prime Minister intends to make these Grand Committees take a far more important part in legislation than hitherto. I have in my mind the experience of last session when a private Member's Bill was sent up to a Grand Committee and the only representative of the Government was a member of His Majesty's household and he refused to take charge of the Bill. The Grand Committee suffered very much, I fear, from the lack of suitable advice and guidance from a responsible Minister who would have had access to all the information which might have been given by the heads of the Department and the law officers of the Crown. We know that when the Bill came back to the House the Prime Minister adopted it, and then it had to be entirely recast, because when it had to stand the fire of criticism of the whole House the Government did not attempt to defend its salient features. There is a concentration 903 of the attention of the country on the proceedings of the Whole House which you can never have on proceedings before committees.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, but do you think that that is a satisfactory way of legislating? Even the right hon. Gentleman's own Party does not think so. Does the right hon. Gentleman not remember that on the Ministerial side of the House the procedure was considered highly unsatisfactory of allowing a Bill to go through Committee upstairs, and bringing it down here at the last moment to be transformed at a stage when the right of Members to speak is strictly limited as well as the opportunity of getting any explanation from the Minister in charge? I differ profoundly from the views of the right hon. Gentleman. There are to be four Grand Committees, one of them to deal with private Members' Bills. But how is the question to be decided as to which private Members' Bills shall have precedence? That point was not explained by the Prime Minister. One of the new Grand Committees is to devote itself exclusively to Bills dealing with Scottish business; but private Members' Bills can never have precedence over Government Bills on that Grand Committee, because all Scottish Bills—Government and private alike—must go to that Grand Committee unless specially retained in the House. On the other hand, if an English private Member on the first private Members' day in the session, carries his Bill to a Second Reading, it will at once have precedence in the Grand Committee appointed to deal with private Members' Bills; but if a Scottish private Member has the fortune of the ballot over an Irish or Welsh Member, and his Bill is referred to the Scottish Grand Committee, that Bill will have no precedence until after the Government business has been dealt with. That is a point which the right hon. Gentleman will have to deal with. He may say that the new Rules as drafted will not impose a new disability 904 on private Members for Scotland who have been fortunate enough to carry their private Bills to the Scottish Grand Committee. But the Scottish Grand Committee was no part of the original scheme; it has been grafted on it. It is an excrescence which I hope, at a subsequent stage, the right hon. Gentleman will be persuaded by the House to remove. Now, I come to the crucial point, viz., the proposal to refer all Bills to these Grand Committees, unless otherwise ordered. How does the House exercise its functions in legislation? It has been made a matter of complaint that the power of the Executive has been growing at the expense of the House of Commons. I think that is true and that probably it is advantageous on the whole. But it has been made a subject of complaint by private Members that the House of Commons is becoming more and more a mere agency for registering the will of the Government of the day, and that the only real power left to the House of Commons is to turn out the Government. Though it is true that that tendency is at work and that changes have occurred, at any rate there still remains one check which the House of Commons can apply, and that is in Committee of the Whole House on Government Bills. If the House objects to the Second Reading it means that the House is willing to turn out the Government. On the Report stage you have a very limited opportunity. Any real chance of influencing legislation is reserved for the Committee stage of Bills. Any one who has been in the House for a considerable number of years can recall instance after instance where a minority, by force of argument and sound reasoning, and by bringing up facts not within the knowledge of Ministers, have compelled the Government to admit changes in their proposed legislation—amendments and alterations sometimes even of a far-reaching character. I maintain that the one opportunity that the House has of making its mind felt in legislation is the Committee stage, and that is what the right hon. Gentleman proposes should exist no longer. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster appears to attach great importance to the Report stage. I attach 905 much less importance to the Report stage than to the Committee stage. An Amendment is sometimes moved which is very inadequate for the purpose in view, or it may happen that a Member does not appreciate the force and extent of the change which he has suggested, but as soon as he has moved the House expects an answer from the Government as to the line which they will take. The Minister in charge of the Bill speaks early; but a new aspect may be given to the discussion, showing that what has been treated in the first instance as a mere technicality involves a great principle or some important matter of fact. On the Report stage the Minister moves his clauses dealing with questions of this kind, and again and again further discussion has shown that the most important points at issue have been entirely missed in the discussion which has taken place or have been entirely misunderstood. In Committee you can deal with matters of that character, but on Report stage the Minister can only speak once, whereas in Committee he can speak many times and deal with points as they arise. I may be told that another Minister can come to the assistance of his colleague, but there is always behind a Bill one Minister who has all the experience of his Department and the knowledge he has gained from deputations and from correspondence, and he alone can satisfactorily deal with the questions raised. I know that on one occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy expressed the opinion with regard to one important Bill that there was only one Minister who could be put in charge of it, and that nobody could take his place. If that is so, and there is no doubt it is, I say that the discussion on Report is the most ineffective way, and comes at a most inopportune time, for a Minister to deal with questions of the kind I have indicated. But much as I am ready and anxious to see our procedure reformed, I would invite the Government not to restrict our opportunities in Committee, but, if it is necessary to restrict them at all, to do so on Report. If you give full and fair opportunities of discussion in Committee you may fairly say all the old points of con- 906 troversy shall not be reopened on Report. It may be a great change in our procedure, but you might say that the questions raised in Committee shall not be re-opened, and that the discussion shall be limited to points arising out of the changes made in the Bill in Committee. That would further the progress of the Bill; it would lessen the amount of time which our discussions occupy, but it would increase the control of this House—the only control which is operative in great measures—afforded by the opportunity of examination in Committee. The Government admit that some measures must not be treated in the way they propose shall be the rule, but I wonder on what principle they have made their selection. The resolution says that the Order shall not apply to (a) Bills for imposing taxes, or Consolidated Fund or Appropriation Bills; or (b) Bills for confirming Provisional Orders. First of all I wonder why some of those Bills are included, and then I wonder why others are excluded. Take the Consolidated Fund Bill. It is notorious that there is nothing which can be discussed on the Committee stage of that Bill, except certain technical questions, and I should have thought that it was eminently fitted to be entrusted to a Committee upstairs. I can understand the Finance Bill's not being sent to a Grand Committee, but there are other Bills just as important in their constitutional bearing which the House might equally well reserve to itself as the Finance Bill. We live under an unwritten Constitution, and although the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister referred us to foreign example, he did not refer us to Colonial example, but I think in the great Colonies, among those of our own blood, the practice is more assimilated to the practice of this House than to that of foreign nations. The powers of this House are inconceivably greater than the powers of any foreign Parliament, greater than those of the Congress of the United States, greater than those of the French Chamber of Deputies and of the Senate. The powers of this House and of this Parliament are without parallel among the Parliamentary powers in the world. Parliament can deal with any and every constitutional question in exactly the 907 same way as and without any further formalities than those with which it deals with a railway Bill or a sewage measure. Is it right that the great power which the House of Commons has in this respect should be transferred from the House as a whole to a Committee of eighty Members upstairs? If there is to be a rule of this kind the Government must consent to exclude not merely Finance Bills, but Bills dealing with the Constitution and all Bills dealing with the Army and Navy, linked as they so intimately are with our Constitution. There are other Bills also which ought to be excluded. But meantime I ask the Government this question, On what ground do they exclude Finance Bills, and Finance Bills only, from going upstairs? I come to the last of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals, on which he said very little but the importance of which he did not seem to realise. It is the proposal that all Scottish Bills should stand referred to a Scottish Committee, composed of all the Scottish Members with a few English Members. There is a precedent for that, I think, of right hon. Gentleman's own creation, or the creation of a Government of which he was a member. I think I voted against him at that time, and I think he will not be surprised that I have not changed my mind since. After all, we do not sit here to legislate as Englishmen for England, as Irishmen for Ireland, as Scotsmen for Scotland, or Welshmen for Wales; we sit as the Legislature of the United Kingdom. It is true that when a reasonable spirit prevails we attach importance to the views of hon. Members coming from the particular part of the United Kingdom with which the Bills are concerned. But it is a constitutional innovation, and I think a bad constitutional innovation, to attempt to split up this House into national sections to deal with legislation instead of making the legislation the result of the common sense of the House as a whole. The Prime Minister or one of his colleagues will perhaps give us some little further explanation as to what he considers purely Scottish Bills. I presume what he has in his mind is a Bill that affects Scotland only, but it may also affect other interests in the United Kingdom. We had a purely Scottish Bill introduced by 908 the Secretary for Scotland yesterday, and the Government admit that if that Bill is accepted the principles embodied in it cannot be confined to Scotland, but must be extended to England. It is very easy to say that the House can decide on the Second or Third Reading as to whether they will accept the principle or not, because the question of how you put the principle into practice is decided in Committee. But now it is suggested that matters shall be settled in a Committee upstairs on which hon. Members interested may have no representation.
§ MR. MORTON (Sutherland)
inquired what the right hon. Gentleman meant by saying that there was any sort of intention to apply the Scottish Education Bill to England?
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think the hon. Member can have followed the course of the debate yesterday, or he would have been aware that it was admitted by the Government themselves that the principles of the Bill before the House were such as should be applied to this country.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I do not think anyone could have said that. What we said was that the main principles which we apply to Scotland we were prepared to apply to England also, but we committed nobody but ourselves.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's correction. The right hon. Gentleman says he did not commit the House to such a declaration; but if the House accepts the Bill there is no distinction between the circumstances of England and Scotland upon which you can in the opinion of the Government advocate exceptional legislation for Scotland and refuse it to England. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. He says he does not compromise the House but only the Government and himself by the declaration he makes. If the House accepts the Bill there is no distinction between the circumstances of England and Scotland upon which you can set up exceptional 909 legislation for Scotland and refuse it to England. It will be admitted that we may have a Bill confined to Scotland laying down certain principles and giving them particular application. But having once laid down those principles you could find no logical ground for refusing to England any demand for similar legislation. That being so, ought not English Members to be present in their proper proportion when this legislation is considered? They are to be put in a miserable minority on the Committee, where they will be always out-voted when discussing principles which may be applied to them and which may be put into a different form by somebody else. The right hon. Gentle man said Scotland had laws of its own. True. The marriage law of Scotland is different from that of England. I think it is a great misfortune to both England and Scotland as well as to individuals. But would an amendment of the Scottish marriage law be of no consequence to England? It might not be if there was no intermarriage between the Scottish and English people, but happily that is not the case. There is intermarriage. Supposing there was legislation with regard to the Moray Firth. That, I suppose, would be a Scottish measure to be decided by this Scottish Committee, but if it was a penal measure the penalties would be directed largely against people coming from other countries.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The Second Reading would be passed by this House, and it would come back to this House in its other stages.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
It would come back, but we should not have the chance on Report of raising any particular point. If the Minister gave an unsatisfactory answer we should not be able to follow it up with adequate discussion. On Report it is not possible really to press points home without the co-operation of a considerable number of speakers. Then why is this proposal confined to Scotland? I dislike it; I think it is wrong and vicious ab initio, but the Government think it is good. But if it is good why is it not extended? The Prime Minister said he would have no objection to extend it to Wales, but the 910 Welsh had not enough business to keep a Committee going. I think if the right hon. Gentleman cultivates these different interests in different districts instead of cultivating the progressive work that now goes on, he will find that if the Welsh have not enough business to keep a Welsh Committee now they will have in a very short time. But what about English business? There is a good deal of English business. The right hon. Gentleman says that Scottish Members-complain that Scottish opinion is over-ridden by English opinion and English votes. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the case of England? Why are Englishmen to be told that if the Welsh have any business they shall have a Committee of their own, that the Scottish shall have a Committee of their own, that if the Irish desire it they shall have a Committee, but that England is to be governed by the united voices of Irish, Welsh, Scottish, and English Members, and that English questions may be decided by a majority of non-English opinion? I do not want to treat this matter in a Party spirit, but I cannot help reflecting that there have been times during which a Liberal Government was in power when it would have been extremely inconvenient to have had their English business referred to an English Committee, because such a procedure would have resulted in their being unable to carry any legislation at all. I dislike this proposal, and I say further that it would be a gross injustice to carry it through in the limited form proposed and to allow a minority of English men to be out-voted on ordinary English affairs. Can anyone conceive that this House is not to consider legislation as a whole, but to bring its mind to bear only on local legislation? The right hon. Gentleman says he is not aware that the Irish Members want a Committee of this kind. No, they want something different, and on another occasion we understand the Government is going to give it to them. Therefore we are to have one measure applied to Scotland and the same to Wales, if Wales can find work for it, a different measure applied to Ireland, and a third to England. It seems to me that we in the House of Commons ought to try to unite our interests as much as possible, to consider all questions in common, to 911 submit our questions to the decision of the House as a whole, and bow to the decision of the House as a whole. I hope I have not in any sense made a Party speech. I recognise the greatness of the issue involved, and how important it is that some improvement should be made in our procedure. I have even indicated the line which I think the House ought to take to seek a solution. I wish I could cordially support the proposals the Prime Minister has made, but unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared so to modify them as absolutely to change their character I cannot support him.
§ MR. ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)
said the right hon. Gentleman had admitted that their procedure needed great reform, but he thought the method proposed was not the way to do it. He feared the right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten the declaration of a very distinguished Member of the House, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, on this subject. There were three aspects from which the consideration of the procedure of the House could be approached: the aspect of the supporters of the Government who were anxious to see the proposal carried through; that of hon. Gentlemen who sat in opposition who were not so anxious to see it go through; and, thirdly, the point of view of those who, when the House was in Committee, occupied the Chair. That had been his position for many years, years ago, and he should never forget the difference between the position now and when he occupied the Chair. He approached the question from a purely non-partisan point of view. To him the House of Commons was more than a place in which to advocate even Liberal views. It was part of our great Constitution, and whichever Party was in power the House of Commons should be the fitting instrument to carry out the will of the electors as expressed at general elections. The right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken and the House were perhaps not aware of the extraordinary weight of authority behind the proposal of the Prime Minister. He made bold to say that the proposal came with a greater weight of Parliamentary authority than almost any other proposal that had been 912 made during the last twenty years. Sir Erskine May formulated this very scheme in 1854 and developed it in an interesting article in the Edinburgh Review of that year. Two of Mr. Speaker's predecessors in the Chair, Mr. Shaw-Lefevre—who made more reforms off his own bat, so to speak, than any Speaker who preceded him—and Mr. Denison, both expressed their approval of it. Nothing was done until 1882 when Mr. Gladstone rather tentatively set up two Standing Committees. Seven Bills only were referred to those Committees, of which four received the Royal Assent, and then the system slept for a number of years. Anyone who read the biography of Lord Randolph Churchill would see, in a remarkable letter to Lord Salisbury written in the autumn of 1885, Lord Randolph Churchill propounded very much this scheme, setting up Committees and giving them powers far beyond what was now proposed, because he suggested that the Report stage should also be dealt with by a Grand Committee. Of course nothing was done. In 1886 a Committee was set up by the Conservative Government when Sir Michael Hicks-Beach was Leader of the House. Afterwards when the Liberal Government came into power Sir William Harcourt, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, set up the same Committee. The proposal now before the House was on all fours with the Committee set up by Sir Michael Hicks-Beach and Sir William Harcourt. The Hartington Committee in 1886 recommended—That every Public Bill after the Second Reading, except a Bill originating in Committee of Ways and Means, or a Bill for the confirmation of any Provisional Order, unless the House shall otherwise order, shall be referred to a Standing Committee of the Whole House.And who constituted that Committee? It included Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Mr. Bright, Mr. Chamberlain. Mr. Courtney, Mr. Harcourt, Mr. Healy, Mr. Justin McCarthy, Sir John Mowbray, Mr. Sexton, Mr. W. H. Smith, and others. Those names were a perfect galaxy of Parliamentary talent. He doubted very much whether they could find fifteen or sixteen other men of such great Parliamentary experience and calibre. Therefore the scheme came before the House 913 with the approval and on the initiative of Sir Michael Hicks-Beach and Sir William Harcourt, and the House agreed to it. There was a division taken on the word "every," and Mr. Sexton moved that it should only be when the House ordered. In the division the Amendment was negatived by twenty-one against five. Therefore the proposal now under discussion came before the House with all that exceptional authority behind it. It was made no less than twenty-one years ago, and why was it not carried out at that time? In the year 1888 Mr. W. H. Smith, who was Leader of the House, set up two Grand Committees and altered Standing Orders Nos. 45 to 50 to the form in which they stood at the present time. They had had some experience of those Grand Committees, for they had been sitting from the year 1888 to the year 1905, and they furnished very interesting Returns, one on the Motion of Lord Hugh Cecil and the other on his own Motion. He found that between 1888 and 1905 162 Bills were referred to Grand Committees, of which 157 got through Committee and 120 received Royal Assent. Those 120 Bills were a most valuable addition to the Statute-book. He thought the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin, who had had considerable experience of Grand Committees, would admit that the work of those Committees when properly done was highly satisfactory. He had listened with considerable surprise to the description given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire as to what went on in those Committees and to his remarks in regard to faddists. He agreed that legislation should not emanate from either experts on the one side or faddists on the other, but it should be the outcome of the practical sober common sense of the Members of the House of Commons. That was what they got from these Committees, and they had done their work in the past in a most efficient way.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think I made any charge against Grand Committees as they now exist. What I did say was that if you multiply Grand Committees you increase the strain on hon. Members. If you do that I fear you will not have the general sense of 914 the House represented on those Committees, and there will be a tendency for only those hon. Members who have a particular interest in the particular measure before the Grand Committee to attend its sittings.
§ MR. ELLIS
said he gathered that the right hon. Gentleman was afraid that they would increase the strain upon hon. Members. If that we so he would not be in favour of the proposals now before them. He was perfectly satisfied that the adoption of the scheme would not have that effect. The figures quoted by the Prime Minister disposed of the chimera of being over-burdened with work. He thought all the Committees necessary and all the necessary work could be manned by 670 Members. The figures absolutely demonstrated that the Committee work of the House was not too great a strain. Perhaps he would be pardoned for saying that he spoke with more years of experience than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire, and he was perfectly satisfied that the fear of this proposal causing a greater strain upon hon. Members was entirely unfounded. He was inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman had spoken too highly of the best features of the Committee work of the House. After all, it must be borne in mind that a Committee of the Whole House to which every one of the 670 Members could attend as he pleased was a comparatively modern institution. Grand Committees were the old form of doing the business of Parliament. He did not think that any system could be worse than a Committee of the Whole House where Members came in and went out not knowing what was the question before the Committee; altogether the work of the House of Commons was never seen to less advantage than during the great straggling Committee stages. The real question was, did they wish the House to be made an efficient instrument for transacting public business? Did they admit that it was perfectly impossible for the whole House to deal individually with every Bill that came before it? The great difficulty in the House of Commons had always been to know what it could not deal with. The question was whether 915 they could increase the power of the House by setting up these Committees. He would like to quote some weighty words by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham who had always desired that the House should get through its business. Speaking in 1904 the right hon. Gentleman said—I wish to go back to those early days when Mr. Gladstone proposed his great scheme of Grand Committees. It appears to me that progress cannot be satisfactorily attained in legislation, in social reform, in all the work with which the House has to deal unless we secure some measure of delegation. I am in favour, therefore, putting aside for a moment the merits of this particular Bill, of a more general application to Committees of this House. We can have two or three or even more sitting at the same time, and we can, therefore, double or treble the work which the House may perform. If it is alleged, as it has been alleged, that in these Committees there is not sufficient arrangement for dealing with obstruction, then I for one will be perfectly prepared to vote for such an alteration of the rules as will give the Chairman of these Committees greater power.From what he had said it would be seen that the proposal of the Government had the highest authority behind it. All experience was in favour of it. He was perfectly satisfied that it would not increase but lighten the burden of the House. It would be the best method of advancing business and of enabling them to transact the work which the nation expected of them. Therefore he most cordially supported the proposal which the Government had made.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said he did not desire to say more than a few words with reference to the criticisms made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer on the question of the proposal to create a Scottish Committee. If Scottish Members asked for a Scottish Committee he would support them in their claim, and if, as he rather anticipated, their claim would go to the extent of having it composed exclusively of Scottish Members, that was a claim which he would also support. So far as Ireland was concerned, the question had been raised whether they would ask for an Irish Committee. He might say they would not. What they would ask for was something entirely different, and for his own part, under existing circumstances, he would make no claim whatever for an Irish Committee under this scheme. Having 916 said so much with reference to the Scottish Committee, and expressed his want of sympathy with the criticisms of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer on that point, he would like to say that in regard to much that was contained in the earlier portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech he found himself entirely in sympathy. He thought many of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments were strong and cogent, and he had heard no answer to them in the speech which had just been delivered. The right hon. Gentleman had made a somewhat startling statement when he said that they had plenty of time in which to do their business. He supposed that the right hon. Gentleman meant that the House of Commons had adequate time for the transaction of such business as he and his Party thought they should perform. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as the representative of a Party which was notoriously not in favour of very considerable legislation. He remembered that on one occasion Mr. Disraeli said that in his opinion Parliament was only useful during the recess. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire probably thought there was adequate time for such business as he desired to see transacted. He would like, however, to ask hon. Members who constituted the overwhelming majority of the House whether it was not their experience that there was a block of business in the House, and that there was an insufficient amount of time to deal with all those great social and other questions which they believed lay at the foundation of the future prosperity of the country. The Prime Minister had very clearly told the House that his proposal was only an experimental one, made with the object of giving new life and vigour to Parliament. It was the latest device for the purpose of enabling the House to perform an impossible task. He had for many years taken a keen interest in all matters connected with Parliamentary procedure. He had been present at many debates on the question and had taken part in most of them. He did not think there was anything more pathetic than the spectacle which the House had presented consistently for the last twenty-six years of endeavouring year after year to amend its procedure so as to enable it to per for 917 an absolutely impossible task. Since he came into the House he had seen the procedure revolutionised, and each proposal to change it had been sustained by the arguments they had heard that evening. It was simply an experiment to see whether new life and vigour could not be given to this Assembly, and the machinery made to work more efficiently. Everyone of the Amendments which had been carried by the House in the hope that they would achieve that object had failed, and the accumulation of business had increased year by year, and admittedly in the whole of the last quarter of a century there had never been such a block of business waiting to be transacted as there was at the present moment. What changes had he witnessed in the House? First of all, the closure was introduced in order to prevent individual Members from speaking too long. Then. as the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had reminded them, closure by compartments was introduced, whereby the discussion of great measures could be put an end to, and sometimes scores of clauses passed without any discussion at all. Then a proposal was made for curtailing the discussion in Committee of Supply. The old cherished tradition that it was the right of the House of Commons to discuss grievances when Supply was under consideration was practically put an end to by the Supply Resolution, which allocated a certain number of days to the discussion of Supply and provided that all Supply not discussed at a given date, sometimes amounting to millions and tens of millions, should be voted under the guillotine without any discussion at all. Then came the institution of Grand Committees. He well remembered how it was said that Grand Committees would lead to such a decentralisation of work that the Parliamentary machine would work smoothly. They knew that so far as effecting that object was concerned, the institution of those Committees had been an absolute failure. He did not say that they had not done good work, but from the point of view of relieving the pressure of work in the House they had failed, because that pressure was greater to-day than ever. Then they had had constant 918 Autumn sessions. In his opinion six months' hard work in the House was about as much as human nature could stand. He was speaking as one who always attended the sittings of the House, and for a man who practically lived in the House when it was sitting he held that six months was quite as much as human nature could stand. As they were all aware, they had again and again exceeded that limit, and the House had sat for eight or ten months, and still the pressure of work continued to be as great as ever. Every one of the changes which had been made had been supported by the same old arguments. They were told there was a glut of business, that the Parliamentary machine could no work, and that the particular proposal under discussion would give new life and vigour, and enable the machine to get through its task. At the end of it all, they were now being asked to discuss the latest device for making the machine to work. He had risen to say that in his judgment the present proposal, if carried, would have precisely the same fate as every one of those which he had enumerated. It would not make the Parliamentary machine work, and it would not put new life and vigour into that Assembly, because it was a reform going upon entirely wrong lines. He was afraid that if he attempted to go into the merits of the proposal he would have to agree with many of the criticisms made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. The proposed Committees were to have great and serious legislative proposals put before them. It should not be forgotten that former Grand Committees were only instituted to deal with non-controversial measures, and he thought everybody would agree that wherever that principle had been departed from, and a controversial measure had been sent to one of those Committees, the result had not been satisfactory. Now there was to be a change, and four Committees were to be appointed instead of two, and great and necessarily controversial proposals were to be sent to them. If those Committees were adequately to perform their work they must have upon them the leading Members of the House. The late Chancellor 919 of the Exchequer had spoken of the necessity of the Government being represented. He ventured to say that no great legislative proposal could be seriously considered by one of those Committees unless the Government was represented by some of its most important members, who could sit upon the Committees from hour to hour and moment to moment in the name of the whole Government. Similarly the Opposition would have to be represented, and, in fact, all the more efficient and active Members of the House would have to be present. It was all very well for the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last to say that the strain would not be too great, but he held that if Members representing the Government, the Leaders of the Opposition, and the leading men in other quarters of the House had to come down at eleven o'clock every day, work on until four in these Committees, and afterwards come to the House and take part in public business until eleven o'clock at night, the strain would be intolerable and the system would break down. They would not and could not attend. Any measure passed in Grand Committee in the absence of such Members would, of course, on Report be discussed at just as great length as if it had been in Committee of the Whole House. The only saving of time would arise from the fact that Members could speak only once. He did not think that would make for the saving of time under the conditions which he had indicated. If a great controversial measure came down from Grand Committee for discussion on Report the fact that each Member could speak only once would not save time. He did not believe that the scheme would take away from the ken of the House the details of great legislative proposals. These details must be discussed in the House. He did not believe if the proposal was carried into effect it would seriously shorten the discussion on Bills or seriously lighten the load of business which rested on the House. That business was growing by leaps and bounds. His firm conviction was that the only remedy for the admitted block of business and the failure of the machine to work was to be found in a real system of decentralisation. The House was trying to do impossible 920 things. It was trying in one Chamber in a limited number of months every year to perform the work of at least five legislative assemblies. From day to day the most extraordinary variety of work was thrown on that Assembly. One day they would be discussing a great matter affecting hundreds of millions of people in one of the great dependencies; the next day, or perhaps the same day, they would be called upon to discuss the making of a sewer in Rathmines. On the following day they would be called upon to discuss some great educational problem affecting the people of England, and on the same day they would perhaps be asked to discuss some small trivial question, affecting the local government of Scotland or Wales. That was the absurdity of the present system, and no rules which they could devise would really free the House. What was wanted was a system of decentralisation. If Grand Committees were to be given the management of the local affairs of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, he would say that they were on the right path, but so long as in that Assembly they attempted at one and the same time to discuss great English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish problems they could not by any new rules prevent the confusion and chaos which existed. In the programme of the present session there were the Army Bill, the Budget Bill, the Small Holdings Bill, the Licensing Bill, Bills dealing with the Government of Ireland and with the question of higher education in Ireland. He would ask any sensible man in the House whether he could honestly say that it was possible, no matter how they changed the rules, in six months for the same Chamber to transact all that legislative business in addition to the necessary financial business of the year. It could not be done. From the experience of many years past they knew that not more than one really great Bill had any chance of being passed into law in one session, and even that could not be done except by closure by compartments, the use of which was a standing invitation to noble Lords in another place to exercise their nefarious powers. He did not think that the debate should pass without his entering a protest. He remembered that when a great man in 921 that House was accused of always making the same protest he replied "Yes, it is the same, but it is true." And so on every occasion of this kind he raised his voice in protest. He had been pointing out for years that these petty changes of procedure would not effect the object of the Government. As years went on the business of the House would become greater and greater, and the machine would work more and more slowly, and the only hope was in such a decentralisation of purely local business as would leave the Imperial Parliament with its hands free to deal with those Imperial questions which alone ought to occupy its attention. That was the only direction from which relief could come. If a division were taken he would not vote against the Government, but he would not vote for it. He did not believe there was the remotest chance of the change effecting its object. If it came to a square issue, for or against, he would mark his utter want of belief in the efficiency of the proposals of the Government by abstaining from voting.
§ SIR BRAMPTON GURDON (Norfolk, N.)
said he wanted as Chairman of the Committee of Selection to explode the idea that there was any difficulty in getting Members to act on the Committees. There were in the House a large number of young, eager, and able Members who were all anxious for work. He had great confidence that they would always have a sufficient number of Members to sit on these Committees. Hon. Members should realise that the House was not merely a pleasant club, but the workshop of the nation. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman opposite that he was mistaken in supposing that there would be any difficulty in getting Members to act. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to have the impression that Government measures would have precedence in the Grand Committees. That was not his view. He imagined that the Bills would come on for consideration in the order in which they were sent upstairs. On behalf of the Committee of Selection he welcomed the proposal to have four Grand Committees. In the House, in the smoking-room, and in the dining-room, he was often approached by Members clamouring for work. Sometimes they said they were new Members and 922 had not been put on a Committee yet. There were 270 Members in the House to whom the Committee of Selection had not been able to give any work at all.
§ *MR. LAURENCE HARDY (Kent, Ashford)
said he spoke on this question entirely irrespective of Party politics, for on whichever side of the House he had sat he had always taken exactly the same attitude as to the kind of work which should be referred to Grand Committees. While he was anxious to support any scheme which would expedite and improve the legislative work of the House, he believed the proposals now made by the Government would not have that effect. He would, therefore, oppose them as he did when they were before the Procedure Committee. The Prime Minister had said that the proposal was an experimental measure. If the right hon. Gentleman insisted on carrying his Resolution, he hoped it would only be as a Sessional Order. They had had from the right hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division a very interesting history of the manner in which these proposals had arisen; and he was somewhat surprised at the conclusion at which that right hon. Gentleman had arrived. Quoting the Report of the Committee which sat on procedure in 1886, the right hon. Gentleman had used extremely eulogistic language as to the great and important authority which lay behind that Report; but he should have added that there were vital differences between what was now suggested and that which was presented in the Report of 1886. In that Report four Committees were to be set up, not mere microcosms of the House of Commons, but the whole House was to be divided into four Committees, which naturally carried with it the corollary that those Committees were not to sit during the ordinary time at which the House itself sat, and that the hon. Members who constituted those Committees should be relieved of sitting on Private Bill Committees. It must be remembered, however, that within two years of presenting that Report the right hon. Gentleman came forward with a proposition, which was accepted by the House, reverting to the original precedent of 1882, on which they had 923 been acting ever since. But they had had a later pronouncement on the question of Grand Committees. In 1905 the Chairmen's Panels, including the late Sir James Fergusson, whose loss they all deplored, formally considered the position of the House with regard to Bills sent to Grand Committees, and they unanimously found that it was not desirable to refer to them Bills which aroused strong Party feeling or dealt with matters of high controversy. And who was the Gentleman who presented that Report? It was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottinghamshire.
§ *MR. LAURENCE HARDY
said he was bound to admit that in the next paragraph the Report went on to say that if the Standing Committees had to deal with Bills of the nature described, then the power of closure should be given to the Chairmen. At the time he himself accepted the power of closure somewhat reluctantly, although in a better form than that described by the Prime Minister. He had had a certain amount of experience during the nine sessions in which he had acted on the Chairmen's Panel, and in the whole of that time he had never used, nor desired to use, the power of the closure. Therefore, he could not say that it would enable them to get very much further with their business. He thought that the right hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division did not rely on the power of the closure very much, because in 1902 he stated that he was an anti-closure man and that the use of the closure marked the incapacity of those who advocated its employment. He thought that the extremely good work which had been done by Grand Committees was often forgotten, but if the list of that work was looked at it would be found that it was a particular class of work. During the discussion of last year it was always assumed that great measures on which the life of a Government depended should be reserved for the consideration of the Whole House, and he thought that the House ought to 924 have a clear and distinct statement on that point. If large measures of that kind were to be reserved for the consideration of the whole House, he did not think there would be any saving of time. On the other hand, while Grand Committees were unsuitable for dealing with large measures, because they did not represent the true feeling of the House, they were too large for dealing with Departmental Bills or small Bills relating to a single point. They often had on the Order Paper of the House, later in the session, a large number of Departmental Bills, usually small measures in themselves, but for which time could not be found owing to the attention of the House being centred on one great subject. If those Bills were sent to Grand Committees, as in the case of the Isle of Man Customs Bill, the Committee of Selection would have to appoint fifteen members, and the Chairman would have to sit in the Grand Committee room upstairs in the hope that a quorum would attend. If they did come the matter would be settled in two minutes, but if a quorum did not turn up, the time of those who did put in an appearance would be wasted. He feared the same kind of thing might happen in regard to every class of Bill, whether large or small, controversial or uncontroversial. To send all classes of Bills to the same Committee showed that the Government had not considered the matter deeply, and the proposal which he intended to bring forward later, that the Bills should be sifted out by a representative Committee, would, he thought, be better than the proposal which the Government brought forward. They should have some better assurance that this scheme did represent the final consideration of how the Government meant to proceed with measures of legislation. They were told that at present they had the opportunity of discussing matters on the Report stage, but they could not forget that last year the guillotine was applied to the Report stage of a Government Bill before the measure had ever been considered by the House. If that was so, how could they be sure that they would have that opportunity of free discussion on Report which would give every Member an 925 opportunity of expressing his opinion? There was one class of Bill left out from the operation of the Resolution. Finance Bills were excluded; but there were other Bills which were practically money Bills, which were not to be considered by the House in Committee. What did that mean? We had two Houses of Parliament, and it meant that certain Bills, if they were not considered in that House, could also not be considered in another place. Many Bills would go to the Grand Committees which could not be considered in the other House, because they were money Bills, and the only opportunity for their consideration would be in the Grand Committee. These considerations ought to be taken into account before they proceeded to deal with the proposal before the House. It was said that it would facilitate legislation and stimulate Members to increased exertions. The suggestion that hon. Members wanted stimulating at that early stage of the new Parliament was a peculiar one, and he believed that the attendance in the House showed that there was not great keenness on the part of hon. Members in regard to the work of the House, especially in matters which concerned the Army and Navy. In fact, in Committee of the Whole House on an important measure, far greater interest was shown than at other times. The Prime Minister had suggested that they would get rid of the discussion of the details of measures of legislation in the House, and make the time of the sitting of the House a comparatively easy matter—that they would not have so much to do, and would go to bed earlier than they did at present. That was a rather remarkable proposition when they remembered that legislation was to be conducted during hours which were, to a large extent, outside the hours in which the House sat, namely, between eleven and four; and yet that plea was put forward by a Government which said only last year that it was impossible for that House to deal with its legislative work at two o'clock, and it was necessary to meet later at a quarter to three, because, it was not able to get Members to attend at the earlier hour. What were the proposals of the Government with regard to unofficial private 926 Members' Bills. There were only fourteen or fifteen Fridays on which private Members could pass the Second Reading of Bills; then under this Rule there was a special Grand Committee to consider them, and at the end there were only two Fridays with ten hours of Parliamentary time to take the later stages. Was not that a waste of time and an unfair burden? Those Bills were very often drafted by private draughts men, and, not having had the assistance of a Minister in the Grand Committee, they must consider in minute detail those Bills on the Report stage. He confessed that he did not think such a course was fair to private Members, or that they would gain very much by the process. As to the proposed Scottish Committee, he wished to know whether it was intended that while Scottish Members were to sit on that Grand Committee they were also to sit on other Committees. They ought to know the full intentions of the Government on this matter, because, as it at present appeared, the Scottish Members would be able to produce a large amount of definite expert opinion in reference to each Bill, while the fifteen English Members would practically be a permanent body, who would sit for the whole session, before whom the Scottish Members would plead their case, on either side, and upon whom the people interested in the measure would be dependent. Such a system was an absolute reversal of the intentions of Parliament in establishing the Grand Committee system, and as the House gradually resolved itself more and more into groups, and it became increasingly difficult to make any Grand Committee of sixty-nine Members or upwards truly representative to consider particular legislation, so would it be much more difficult to select fifteen Members of a thoroughly representative character. It would be very difficult to make a Grand Committee, as at present constituted, really representative of the House, and therefore their opinion would lose its effect, and would not have the amount of influence necessary to ensure that the legislation concerned should be carried out without further debate in the House. For himself he could not accept most of the suggestions put forward; he thought the Government had taken the wrong direction. He 927 did not think the Committee stage should be left to the sole discretion of the Government of the day. It was not de sir able to send Bills of a large character to Grand Committees, and he did not believe that the Government would increase the efficiency of the House by introducing the complications of closure which they proposed. He did not think the scheme would have the effect they desired, and he was sorry the Government had thought fit to bring it forward.
§ *MR. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire)
said he wished to thank the righthon. Gentleman, on behalf of all Scottish Members, for including the Scottish Committee in his scheme. The reasons given for the opposition to the scheme were entirely mistaken reasons. Objection was taken on the ground that it was part of a national scheme. Hon. Gentlemen opposite described it as separation, and apparently looked upon it as an instalment of Home Rule, and objected to it on that principle. He protested against any such view being taken. It was perfectly true that some Scotsmen held certain national views, and many believed that Scottish business would be better done if it was managed by some local body instead of by the Imperial Parliament. But that was not the question. The majority of Scottish Members were willing to accept the fifteen Englishmen on the Committee. He approached the proposal as a part of a general scheme to case the present congestion of Parliament. It was not a national question. But if Grand Committees were to be set up there must be some classification of the business. There was already the classification of Bills on law and on trade, but there was one body of work that came before the House which was entirely distinct and that was Scottish work. Not only was it a distinct class, but it was more neglected than any other work in the House. Because each question in Scotland had to be dealt with by a separate Bill, and Scotland being a small nationality with a small population, she had no chance with English Bills treating with the same subjects. Those were dealt with, but the Scottish Bills set aside. When a Scottish Bill came before the House who 928 sat and listened to it? Scotsmen exclusively. He was particularly sorry for the little body of fifteen English martyrs who were to sit on this Scottish Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said there would be no English Committee, but that was not so. There were to be four Committees altogether, and assuming that two were sitting at the same time, all the Scottish Members would be on the Scottish Committee, and would not in any way contaminate the other Committee, which would consist solely of English and Irish Members, and the latter would not be more than fifteen, which would only correspond with the number of Englishmen on the Scottish Committee. The scheme was part of a scheme of devolution of the business of the House, and practical Scotsmen regarded it with favour because it would help both England and Scotland.
§ *MR. JOWETT (Bradford, W.)
supported the proposal of the Prime Minister. The idea of the details of a Bill being considered by a Committee of 670 Members was too ridiculous for words. That was not only his view, but also the view of a distinguished official of the House. Sir Courtenay Ilbert said before the Committee on Procedure he did not think that any one defended the existing system under which Bills were passed through Committee of the Whole House; that no reasonable person would sit down and deliberately suggest such a method of procedure. No words could be a stronger condemnation of the present system, and many Members of the House would approve of the opinion of Sir Courtenay Ilbert. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford had rather thrown cold water on the proposals of the Government, and he could quite understand his taking every opportunity to show the absolute impossibility of governing the whole of the three Kingdoms from that House. But that was no reason why the best should not be done to make the House of Commons a working institution. No man could pretend that as at present constituted it was a working Assembly, so far as private Members were concerned. He submitted that the House had a somewhat demoralising effect on private 929 Members, who were not allowed to do the business for which they were sent there. Month after month Members willing and anxious to take part in public business, and sit on Committees, were reduced to sitting in the House listening to discussions conducted largely by right hon. Gentlemen on the two front benches, and those who sat in the part from which he was speaking were often not able even to hear. He did not think it was fair not to allow private Members to do what they were sent to Parliament to do. He certainly welcomed the prospect of be rang able to take some part in the business of that House. It seemed to him that the Rules of Procedure under which they suffered would not have been tolerated so long if they had not suited the convenience of the legal fraternity. If one took up the Amendment Paper in regard to any Bill one saw that the procedure of the House was on lines that favoured the methods of legal Members. For instance, the Order Paper of that day containing Amendments to the Prime Minister's proposal, included the following—Line 1, after the first 'a' insert 'Government;'Leave out 'the' to 'commit,' in line 9, and insert 'Business Committee may;'and so on. It was like a Chinese puzzle. There was neither sense nor reason in it. It was not necessary, and he did not think any other public body would tolerate it. Things should be put plainly so that a plain man could understand them, instead of his having to spend his whole time in solving such word puzzles. He remembered that on one clause of the Education Bill, in order to effect a change in it, thirteen separate Amendments were put down on the Paper. On other occasions private Members were expected to follow intelligently Amendments that were not in print. They were read from the Table, and most Members had no opportunity of knowing what their terms meant. That might be called business, but he did not think it was, nor did other Members who were responsible for it. Lawyers were present to represent their constituencies in the ordinary way, and these matters of drafting should be dealt with by experts who were appointed 930 for the purpose and could offer their advice without prejudice and with the confidence of everybody. He not only agreed with the Prime Minister in his making four instead of two Standing Committees, but he would go a step further and suggest that in connection with every one of those Committees there should be an expert draughtsman in order to render Members independent of the lawyers. He would go even further than that—as would other Members, in increasing numbers—and submit that they should take part not only in the legislative, but also in the executive, part of the work of the House. It was surely a scandal that private Members should have no share in executive business. At present they had simply power to ask a Question, which might or might not be answered, or to make a speech, if by chance they caught the Speaker's or the Chairman's eye. It seemed to him that the various Government Departments had grown so big that Members representing all branches and sections of the House should be associated with them. That was a view which would grow as time went on, and as they got an increased number of adherents to the Committee system they would find the system extended to the executive part of the work. They welcomed the proposals of the Government, because in all probability they would give Members a better opportunity for taking part in the business they were sent to do. For his part he thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the step he was taking, which, in his opinion, was much needed in the interests of public business, as well as in the interest of private Members.
§ *MR. CHIOZZA MONEY (Paddington, N.)
said that he would be sorry to stand for a moment in the way of any well-considered plan to make the Parliamentary wheels run more smoothly, but he thought it was a little unfortunate that they could not consider the procedure on Bills as a whole, and not merely the procedure after they had passed the Second Reading. There were two methods of saving time—either to revise the whole procedure, or to revise a small part of it, as they were doing now. If they 931 adopted the former and more desirable method, a great deal of time could be saved without the necessity of enlarging the system of Grand Committees. He suggested that the first reading stage of a Bill should be purely formal, both for private and Government Bills. When the Bill was ordered to be printed an exposition of its nature and of its principles should be furnished with it, as was done in many foreign legislatures. That would save the whole of the proceedings on the First Reading. The proposition before them now was that after the Second Reading the Bill should go to Grand Committee, but that would not necessarily save time, because Members would turn the Report stage into the former Committee stage when the Bill came downstairs. He would remind the House that when the Education (Provision of Meals) Bill came from the Standing Committee, page after page of Amendments were put down on the Report stage.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL (Marylebone, E.)
reminded the hon. Member that that Bill was sent to a Select Committee and then came to the House. It did not go to Grand Committee at all.
§ *MR. CHIOZZA MONEY
said that if the reference had been to a Grand Committee they might still have had a discussion on the Report stage similar to the discussion in Committee. He was very much interested in the Census of Production Bill, which dealt with a subject that he had studied for many years, and he had a Motion on the Paper with regard to it, which he was unfortunately prevented from moving. The Bill was sent to a Committee upstairs, on which he did not serve, not having been invited to do so. The result was that the Report stage was the first time he encountered the Bill in the House, and then he and many other Members around him were afraid to make speeches lest they endangered the passage of a measure in which they were deeply interested. If that was called reform, he could not agree with the application of the word. Then there was danger in connection with the class of Member seeking to serve on the Committees. The word "faddists" had been used, but in regard to these Committees he would suggest that 932 there was great danger of special interests seeking to be represented upon them. If it was found that on some Committee a certain interest would be attacked Members would be found endeavouring to get themselves placed on that Committee in order to make their contentions heard in a way that could not be achieved in the House itself; because the value of a Member's vote was only one in 670 in the House, whereas it was one in eighty in Committee. Therefore, they would get interests over-represented upon the Committees. His hon. friend who had just sat down had pleaded for more work for private Members, and he joined hands with him in making that plea, but what did the new proposals do for the useful men of the House who had to earn their livings? The House met at a quarter to three and sat till eleven, and often later. Supposing a Committee sat from eleven o'clock in the morning until prayer time, and then the Members who composed it went on in the House until eleven o'clock at night, and frequently until the next morning: was it possible to give proper time and attention to business carried on in that way? Was it proposed to do important work in Committee, and to occupy the time between three o'clock and eleven o'clock on less important matters in the House? It seemed to him that the private Member would find himself in the dilemma of having either to give his time in the morning or in the afternoon. Many Members were most earnestly desirous of doing useful work, but they would find themselves utterly unable to contend with Parliamentary duties lasting twelve or fifteen hours a day. He had protested against twelve or fifteen hours a day for 'busmen, and he was therefore entitled to protest against these hours. Then there was the semi-secret character of the Committees to consider. Members in Committees were not reported officially as in the House, and if these proposals were adopted, he submitted that there should be an official record of the proceedings upstairs; otherwise, those proceedings would tend to become secret, and that would not be at all in the public interest. He submitted that it would be better if the Government came forward with a 933 proposal relating to the whole of the procedure of the House on the various stages. He earnestly asked the House to consider whether, after the First and Second Reading stages, some business Committee with Mr. Speaker as Chairman, could not allot time, as suggested by the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the remaining stages of Bills according to their importance. He asked them to consider whether they would not gain more time, with a larger measure of efficiency, in that way than by the proposals of the Prime Minister, and at the same time enable every Member to take a proper interest in the affairs of the House and of Committees of the House.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said he did not admire in every respect the procedure of the House. He quite admitted that there were defects; but he could not agree with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford that the House wholly failed to discharge its duties. It seemed to him that many of those duties were discharged well enough. But in considering the subject in a general way it was necessary to remember that the House had very divergent classes of duties to perform. It was a great mistake to suppose that the House was solely a legislative machine. That seemed to him to be a fundamental error. The House, in the first place, had administrative and even judicial duties, and it discharged them extremely badly. If the Government had come forward with proposals for improving the machinery of Private Bill procedure, he agreed that much might have been said for very drastic changes in that respect. The made in which the House dealt with Private Bills was little better than a scandal. The procedure was constantly used by hon. Members who desired to put forward some political proposal, or some sectional or even personal desire; it was used as a means of putting undue and illegitimate pressure on the promoters of such Bills; and if any means could be devised for turning the business connected with Private Bills into a really judicial proceeding, it would be a great improvement. But that was not the proposal before the House. The hon. Member below the gangway 934 seemed to think there should be something like the Committees, he presumed, appointed by the National Convention at the time of the French Revolution, which had the supervision of the administration of the country. He could not conceive any proposal with less to recommend it. It certainly would not conduce to the rapid administration of anything. His own experience of a Committee was that it was always a great deal worse than its best member and very often worse than its worst member, for administrative purposes. He would rather trust to a single man for administrative purposes subject to impeachment or dismissal from his office if he made a mistake, than he would trust the most able committee ever constituted. But when they passed from the administrative duties of the House and came to its legislative duties, a great distinction must be made. There were the deliberative duties of the House and there were the actual legislative duties. He admired mainly, if he might respectfully say so, the deliberative faculties of the House. He thought it was by far the best place in the country for discussing and examining any proposal, whether in the form of a Bill or any other form—he was inclined to say the best in the world. But let them be careful to remember that there was not that sharp distinction between the principles and details of a measure which might be thought. They could not discuss the principle of a measure without also discussing the way in which that principle was to be carried out, and yet it was the way in which a measure was to be carried out that really mattered. Let them take almost all the great proposals that were before the House last session. On the broad principles of a great number of them all Members of the House were more or less agreed. If they were to write down the theses of what was desired in reference to the Land Tenure Bill or the Education Bill of last year, they would find a very general agreement. But when it came to details, how general principles should be carried out, they would find that a real difference of opinion commonly existed. It was, therefore, quite a delusion to 935 suppose that they could divide sharply the discussion that took place on the Second Reading of a Bill and the discussion in Committee. It was quite true that they might have discussions on unimportant matters in Committee, but many of the most important and most valuable discussions were those which took place on particular aspects of a question in Committee, or when a particular set of words were put before the House, to be accepted as part of the legislation of the country. That was the time when in his judgment the House had real power of dealing with a subject, and when the deliberations of the House were most valuable. When they came to the actual legislative work of the country, he agreed that it was very bad. He meant by legislation the actual construction of Acts of Parliament, which he agreed must be bad in any large Committee, but it was bad not only because of the genius of the House, but much more because of the controversial character of the measures submitted to it. The real truth was that when they had a controversial measure, even if they had only eighty Members discussing it, they would have a vast number of different opinions, many ill-digested, and it would be impossible to get the necessary real and concentrated attention on matters of drafting and so on. That difficulty would be just the same in a Grand Committee of seventy or eighty members as it was in Committee of the Whole House. They would not find substantial difference in the actual legislative work of the House. Therefore, in his judgment, the proposal of the Government would destroy the best part of the work of the House, namely, the deliberative part when the attention of the House was concentrated on definite proposals. A good deal had been said about the difficulty of manning the various Committees. He shared to the full the apprehensions which had been expressed on that point. He did not think it would be in the least possible for members of the Government to attend the Committees in such a way as really to supervise the work; and their experience of the Report stage of the Land Tenure Bill, one of the worst drafted measures that ever passed the House, did not encourage the belief that a 936 really controversial measure could be dealt with adequately and properly by a system of Grand Committees, and it certainly discouraged the House from thinking that, even with respect to two Grand Committees, the Government were at present able to give sufficient attention and guidance to their work to ensure that it should be satisfactory to the House when it came downstairs.
And, it being a quarter past Eight of the clock, further proceeding was postponed without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 4.