§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
in moving the Motion of which he had given notice in regard to the business of the House, said: The Motion which stands on the Paper in my name is one which we have for a long time been accustomed to have moved at this season of the year; but before the House is asked to assent to it it may reasonably require to be informed both as to the length of time over which it is meant the suspension of our ordinary rules should extend and what matters legislative or otherwise are intended to be brought within the scope of its operation. May I say by way of preface, speaking for myself, I am strongly opposed to the suspension of the eleven 233 o'clock rule, except with the genera consent of the House, or in case of real necessity. I think the length of time which we spend, not only in this Chamber, but also in the discharge of the growingly heavy work which is assigned to Committees, is quite a sufficient tax upon the energies and the strength of even the most zealous Member amongst us. I think I may fairly claim that during the past session there have been as few extensions of our normal sittings as, perhaps, in any session in recent times. Therefore I should not propose this Motion now unless I thought it one for the general convenience of the House and a matter of necessity. Some weeks ago I expressed a hope that this part of the session—an autumn sitting being inevitable—might be brought to a close in July. I am sorry to say that that anticipation will not be precisely realised, but it will be realised as nearly as may be, because we propose to ask the House to adjourn on Saturday, 1st August. It follows, therefore, that there are now only three available weeks of Parliamentary time before the end of this stage of the session. In order to submit to the consideration of the House the manner in which the Government propose that the time of the House should be occupied, I may perhaps say one word by may of general survey of the position of public business. Whatever judgment may be passed as to the character and quality of the work done I think everyone will admit that this has been an extremely and exceptionally busy session. If we make allowance for the inevitable loss of time that occurred immediately before Easter, I think the amount of work done reflects the greatest credit upon the industry of all sections and parties in the House. We have passed already—I am speaking now of Government business alone, for the e have been very valuable private measures dealt with—we have already disposed of two Scottish Bills, the Prosecution of Offences Bill, two Public Health Bills, and, last night, the Old-Age Pensions Bill. The Children Bill, after a most exhaustive examination — and I do not think any Standing Committee has ever clone its work better—has now reached the Report stage. The Irish Universities Bill ism a similar position. The Scottish 234 Education Bill in the course, of next week will also have passed through the Committee stage. The Port of London Bill is under the consideration of a Joint Committee of both Houses, and, though I am afraid we cannot anticipate that we shall finally dispose of it before the adjournment, I think it certainly will be passed during the autumn sitting. That shows a great deal of legislative work done by the House and a number of measures of first-class importance either disposed of or on the eve of passing to another place. The practical question now is, How are we to dispose of the three weeks that still remain before 1st August Let me, first of all, enumerate the Bills which must pass into law before that day. We must dispose of the financial business by getting the remainder of Supply, and then the Appropriation Bill and the Finance Bill, through the Committee and Third Reading. Next we hope to dispose finally, so far as this House is concerned, of the Irish Universities Bill. Then there is the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill which must necessarily be passed at this season of the year. There are the Fatal Accidents Bill, the Committee stage of the Patents and Designs Bill, the Housing of Working Classes (Ireland) Bill in the Report stage, which we hope to get through this afternoon; and there are two or three other small Bills it will be necessary to get through, the Registration Bill in reference to the alteration of date of the Revising Barristers Court and the Friendly Societies Bill included. There are other small Bills we hope to get through, and these supply the main reason for asking the House to suspend the rule. It is desirable that we should get them through, and I hope we shall do so with general consent. I do not ask for the suspension for the purpose of pressing controversial business; that, I think, would be an abuse of the privilege we are asking for. But it will be a great convenience if at this period of the session we are able to dispose of measures which meet with general assent or are of Departmental importance, and are not at the mercy of one or two Members who, for some reason, by their speeches, may prevent progress being made. There are three Bills, I may 235 mention, as coming within the category it is desirable we should pass, the Tuberculosis Prevention (Ireland) Bill, the Post Office Savings Bank Bill, and the Telegraph (Construction) Bill. A number of small Bills, mainly relating to Ireland, such as the Seed Potatoes and Seed Oats Supply Bill, I hope the House will allow us to pass before we adjourn. This completes the legislative business to which we shall ask the attention of the House during the next three weeks concluding this period of the session. This is not the occasion to anticipate the business for the autumn session; but the House will observe that I have left open a reference to a particularly important addition to our legislative proposals in regard to the Licensing Bill. We propose before we adjourn on 1st August to submit a Procedure Resolution for the allocation of time for that Bill and to devote two days to the Committee stage. Further progress with that Bill and with other measures we leave over for the autumn session. I do not think the programme I have outlined makes an excessive demand on the time of the House for the next three weeks. It will involve one effective Saturday sitting—there will be a sitting on Saturday, 1st August—the Motion for adjournment being made the day before—when we will take the Appropriation Bill; but it involves one effective Saturday sitting—the last Saturday in July. Unless we have this, there will be great difficulty in getting the Third Reading of the Irish Universities Bill, which I am sure a large majority of the House—on this side certainly—will be glad to dispose of. I regret to propose Saturday sittings, but, with this exception, I do not think the programme I have sketched makes an excessive call on the time and patience of Members, and I hope with this explanation the House will assent to the Motion I now make.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, until the adjournment for the autumn holidays, Government Business be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the sittings of the House, and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed; that, at the conclusion 236 of Government Business each day, Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put; and that no Motions be made to bring in Bills under Standing Order No. 11."—(Mr. Asquith.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
I am not disposed to quarrel with that part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement in which he has told us that the actual number of additional hours we are asked to sit before 1st August is not excessive. Toward the end of July, or, to speak more correctly, toward the last few weeks of the session, the House is accustomed to lengthen the hours it is usual to sit at other times; and, as the Prime Minister has given a distinct pledge that he means to take no controversial business, I do not think he has gone beyond demands which have been made by his predecessors so far as the actual strain on the time and attention of Members is concerned, during the few weeks before the adjournment. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that the occasion when a Motion is made for the suspension of the eleven o'clock rule in July has for a long series of years afforded a fitting opportunity for comment upon the work and action of the Government. I do not mean to go in detail over this large and fruitful field, but there are one or two observations I must make. The first relates to the amount of legislative business the Government insists upon the House dealing with, and the results of their demand. It has been one of the customary and familiar taunts—so customary and familiar that it has rather lost its sting now—that anybody who protests from this side of the House against the overcrowding of the Government's legislative programme does so because he does not want any legislation at all. Well, there is a great deal of proposed legislation I think undesirable, but it is not with the general proposition what legislation we want that I now wish to deal, but with the manner in which legislation is conducted. I would ask the Government and the House generally whether they seriously think that the task imposed is one the House can carry out effectively It is perfectly natural that a new House of Commons, eager for legislation, should overrate the value of positive legislation 237 and underrate the injury to Parliamentary methods by overcrowding the Order Paper. The protest I now venture to make I feel I could not have made with the same effect to an audience which would have been entirely unsympathetic in an earlier period of the life of this House; but I ask now, is it not evident to the most casual observer that if we attempt to deal with so many Bills as we are asked to deal with, those Bills are not all properly discussed and are not discussed by people who ought to discuss them The system of Grand Committees, immensely developed as it had been by the present Government, has many potentialities in it, and I by no means condemn it unreservedly; but it is liable to two great evils, the imposition of undue burdens on Members who serve on these Committees, preventing them from attending the more general discussions within these walls; the other is that a certain number of Members are excluded, practically excluded, though not by Standing Orders, from taking part in what is considered by many the most important stage in our discussion of large measures. I say nothing about the Leader of the Opposition, whose services may not be required or important on these Bills. I never attend the Committees—I have not time—but it is quite impossible that anybody holding the office of Prime Minister can take any part in guiding deliberations in Grand Committee. That is a great evil. I do not attend Grand Committees. It would be impossible for me to attend here if I did; the same disability applies to the Prime Minister; and, I am told, also applies to the Law Officers of the Crown. I do not say that they absent themselves from Grand Committees, but I do distinctly say that the o work the House has been accustomed to get from the Law Officers by way of advice and assistance on legal points cannot be given by those officers in Grand Committee, and either a great deal of work must be done without their assistance or the number of Law Officers must be increased o there is no other alternative. I doubt whether any of the older Members of the House or new Members who have been working at the conduct of legislation since the general 238 election will think I am in the least overstating my case when I say that the amount of business sent to Grand Committees has had the double effect of overworking a large number of the most laborious and energetic Members of the House, and has excluded from an important stage—some would say the most important stage—in Parliamentary proceedings some Members of the House whose advice and assistance has always been given in Committee of the Whole House, and is not and cannot be given in Grand Committee. That is one result of overcrowding legislation, and the other is that we are working now practically under a permanent system of closure. I do not mean to go into that question now. The Prime Minister has informed us that he intends to move one of his habitual customary Closure Resolutions a few weeks hence in reference to the Licensing Bill, and then I shall revert to the history of the system and its effect on Parliamentary proceedings. But nobody, on whichever side of the House he may sit, can con-template the proceedings during the last few weeks on the Pensions Bill with entire satisfaction. Discussion in this House has enormous value in modifying and improving Bills, but it has been hampered, truncated, and in some cases wholly destroyed by the system which has now become not merely familiar, but almost universal in the hands of the present Administration. I will say no more on this theme now. I shall have to return to it again. ["Hear, hear."] I do not know who it was who ironically cheered my statement; but I am quite certain that the hon. Member, if he habitually attends the proceedings, will know' that every word I have said is absolutely justified. I do not say more on that point now, but I now come to another point which is strictly germane to the general conduct of business and one on which there will be no very convenient opportunity of saying anything to the House in the future—I mean the conduct of Supply. I may be permitted to remind old Members of the House and to inform new Members of one or two facts which they should bear in mind in considering this question. Our present Supply rule was brought 239 forward by the late Government, and it introduced a profound, and, I am inclined to think, almost unqualified, reform into our procedure. I do not say it is unqualified—no change is unqualified—but I am quite sure it has few defects and has been of enormous advantage to the general work of the House. Before the Supply rule was introduced the amount of time that might be taken up by Supply was only limited by the powers of endurance of individuals Members of the House. Supply was accumulated in great blocks at the end of the session, when the less industrious Members had gone to more agreeable occupations. It was carried on night after night in the small hours, and, while there was an immense expenditure of time, of temper, and of health, there was really no adequate discussion of the matters brought before the House. The new rule did two things—it limited the number of days that could be devoted to the ordinary Supply of the year to a number between twenty and twenty-three, and it provided that those days should be distributed week by week through the whole course of the session. The result of this was that there was no topic on which it was proper to criticise the Government for the discussion of which an opportunity could not be found; and instead of the Government being able, at the cost of the time and health of Members, to get through all this bulk of matter at the end of August, they were obliged to stand face to face with the House of Commons, week by week, and to stand the shock of hostile criticism. So much for the Standing Order. But outside the actual terms of the Standing Order there was an understanding arrived at across the floor of the House by the then Government that the actual topic to be selected week by week for discussion in Supply was, broadly speaking, to be determined by the critics of the Government on either side, but in the main by the Opposition to the Government. That rule was most carefully maintained under the late Government. Every week there was a consultation between the Government and the Opposition Whips, not as to what Supply it would be convenient to the Government to put down, but what Supply it would be convenient to the Opposition to discuss. 240 In other words, the Government, week by week, gave the Opposition an opportunity of selecting the topics most agreeable to the Opposition, and therefore, by natural inference, most disagreeable to the Government. That was the understanding, and as the Government and all those Members who have served in other Parliaments are well aware, that understanding was carried out in the letter. But I have seen with some alarm a desire on the part of the Government to evade this understanding. Perhaps that word conveys an implication I do not wish to make. I will say that the Government have shown a desire to escape from that understanding, the maintenance of which is, I am convinced, the only condition on which the Supply rule can be thoroughly and effectively worked. I understand that the reason in more than one case when we have asked for certain Votes to be put down and our suggestion has not been acted upon—I understand the reason in many cases has been that a new Minister had come into office and that he was not competent to deal with details which a Minister in charge of a Vote must have at his fingers' ends if he is to answer criticism properly. I quite agree that the Prime Minister has been in some difficulty in that regard. There have been a great many changes of office, and it is perfectly true that a Minister suddenly brought into a wholly new office neither can nor ought to be expected to make himself, within a few days, master of all the details of questions which the Opposition may legitimately discuss, or to know how to answer the innumerable points which may be raised by industrious criticism in Supply. I do not wish to press this point beyond what is fair to the Government, and if the right hon. Gentleman tells me, as I hope he will, that he entirely recognises the historic accuracy of the account I have given of the original arrangement, that he means to carry it out in the letter and in the spirit, and, further, that the only thing that stood in his way and prevented him from carrying it out has been the changes in the personnel of Ministers in charge of the different Votes, I shall say no more; but I shall expect that next session the old method 241 will again, be put in force, and that the weekly criticism of the Government will be arranged on lines which will give proper opportunities to the Opposition. There is one other point connected with Supply which has nothing whatever to do with any arrangement under the Supply Rule, but it has to do with a practice which is now becoming habitual with the Government, namely, the habit of choosing the inferior limit of possible days for Supply rather than the superior limit. Under the Supply rule not more than twenty-three days can be given to Supply, and not less than twenty; but it rests with the Government of the day to say which limit shall be adopted. So far as I remember, there was only one session under the late Government in which they did not give the extra three days for Supply; but I believe that in two out of the three years of the present Government's existence the minimum number and not the maximum was given. I do not know what the justification of that is. The right hon. Gentleman cannot deny that there are a great many topics that still require discussion in Supply, and for the discussion of which an opportunity could be found if the Government would give twenty-three days to Supply instead of twenty. If twenty days only are to be allotted, we have only five days remaining, and within those five days must be discussed, or left un-discussed, the Home Office Vote, one of the most important Votes, as I think everybody will agree; the Education Vote, which not only involves a sum of nearly £14,000,000, but touches on subjects which create equal interest in every part of the House; the Board of Trade Vote, and the Local Government Board Vote, which, next to the Home Office Vote, probably touches most nearly the social life of the people. The Local Government Board Vote was not discussed at all last year. Is it going to be hitched in somewhere among the Votes of immense importance I have ventured to bring to the notice of the House Then there is the Post Office Vote, involving £18,000,000, and we have really not yet had any adequate discussion of the Colonial Office Vote or the Foreign Office Vote. It is true there was a discussion on the day before the Whitsuntide holidays on the Foreign 242 Office Vote, but that discussion was not devoted to a general survey of the foreign policy of the Government, but was rigidly restricted to the one topic of His Majesty's visit to Russia. That was a separate discussion which might have been taken on the Motion for the Adjournment for the holidays or on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House, and it was only put down for discussion on the Foreign Office Vote for convenience. Thus the Foreign Office Vote has not really been touched, and certainly there are questions which ought to be raised upon it. With this limitation of time the exclusion of some topics is, I quite admit, an inevitable result of the Supply rule, even when the number of Supply days is limited to twenty-three. There must be topics every year which cannot be discussed; but when you limit the number of Supply days to twenty, then it is not open to the Government to say they have no more time. They have more time, and I think they ought to give it. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to ask the House to meet again in October, why can he not give up one of the days which are to be devoted to the Committee stage of the Licensing Bill? That does not endanger such prospects of life as the Licensing Bill may possess. The guillotine Resolution will presumably limit the amount of time we give to it, and whether that guillotine Resolution be moved at the end of July or on 12th October makes absolutely no difference to the prospects of the Bill in Committee and on the Report stage in this House. I remember asking a friend of mine why the Government were going to cut the discussion of the Licensing Bill in half. The answer given was that the Government thought it necessary to prove their sincerity to the country, and their sincerity could not be adequately proved unless they took some vigorous action before they went to the seaside. Surely it is quite vigorous action enough to pass a guillotine Resolution which says that the House is not to discuss the Bill in Committee stage for more than nineteen days, and with that mark of Napoleonic vigour, I should have thought the Government might really be content, and there would at all events be one more day for this much needed work of Supply. The House will 243 see that, broadly speaking, my criticisms come to this. I do not complain of the actual strain of the work which the Government are going to throw upon us before 31st July. I do say, however, that, by curtailing our means of criticism and by overwhelming us with legislation which we are never allowed to deal with in detail, they are inflicting an injury, I hope not a permanent, but a serious injury, upon the efficiency and credit of the House.
§ MR. ASQUITH
Perhaps it will be convenient if I at once rise to make a short reply to the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman. My omission to mention the date at which it is proposed that the House should resume was not accidental, but intentional, because I hoped we might get through this discussion without any allusion to so painful a topic. I may say that we propose that the House should meet on Monday, 12th October. [Cries of "Oh!"] Apparently I was not wrong in my anticipations as to the feelings which such a topic would excite. The right hon. Gentleman's first point was that the manner in which the system of Grand Committees is worked imposes an excessive strain on Members generally. In the next place, he said that it excludes from an important area of discussion Members who would be very glad and are well qualified to take part in such discussion. Of course there are evils and drawbacks as well as advantages in every change of procedure, but I am, I believe, expressing the general opinion of the House when I say that our new rule, that under normal conditions Bills should go to a Standing Committee instead of being discussed in Committee here, has worked advantageously. I do not say that it ought to be applied to Bills such as the Old-Age Pensions Bill, or the Licensing Bill, or to measures of a highly controversial kind. [An HON. MEMBER: The Coal Mines Bill.] I think that is a fair case; when once the principle is adopted it is a mere question of adjustment of detail. Take a case like that of the Children Bill. That Bill has 130 clauses, and there would be no possibility of its passing at all if the Committee Stage had to be taken in this House. The Scottish Education Bill is a very complicated and difficult measure. If we 244 had to discuss it in Committee of the Whole House a large number of Members would take no part in the matter except to come in and vote on questions they do not understand, and we should abstract no insignificant fraction from the general legislative time of the House So long as the system of Grand Committees is not abused for the purpose of removing from the floor of the House measures which in their details as well as principle are highly controversial, I think there is a balance of gain rather than loss. The right hon. Gentleman complains of the use made of the guillotine. I said, and every one on this Bench said some years ago, stronger things than the right hon. Gentleman has said. I do not retract or repent what I have said. I have never regarded the guillotine as anything better than a necessary evil. It is impossible to discriminate by an order of the House between the relative degrees of importance and interest of different amendments, and the guillotine must exclude some important topics. I hope we may to some extent mitigate that by recasting the Report stage and securing on the Report stage that matters not adequately discussed in Committee should first receive attention. The guillotine is an evil, but it is a necessary evil, until you can get some machinery by which, with the general consent of the House, the amount of time to be allocated to the topics to be discussed on the consideration of Bills can be determined impartially instead of depending entirely on the Government majority of the day. I am afraid that is a counsel of perfection. The right hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties well. I do not say he invented the guillotine, but he perfected its workmanship and widened the sphere of its operations, and we are, after all, but lame and halting followers of the right hon. Gentleman. It does not matter which Party is in power; the guillotine will remain, I venture to predict, a permanent part of the machinery of this House, and its use will become more frequent unless some such arrangement as I have indicated is made. I pass to what the right hon. Gentleman said on the subject of Supply. I assure him that there has been no intention of escaping from the understanding which was come to when this rule was framed, 245 that it is not for the Government, but for the critics of the Government, to determine what particular topics should be taken in Committee of Supply. The regular Opposition have clearly the first claim to be consulted. So long as the Patronage Secretary and I hold our present positions there will be no indisposition to consult the right hon. Gentleman in these matters. But there are other sections of the House to be considered also. There is the Irish Party, who have, by long, unbroken custom, been entitled to a voice as to when Irish Supply should be taken and as to what particular topics should be discussed. My colleagues from Scotland have an equal right in regard to Scottish Supply. On questions of general policy there are Members sitting in another quarter of the House who certainly would complain—and I think with reason—if their wishes were not taken into account. The Government has no interest whatever in themselves choosing topics in Supply, still less in choosing the topics in Supply in which their own friends are interested. My experience is that when you are in Committee of Supply it is the wounds of your friends that are most to be feared, and I am not sure that by this convenient convention, by which the Opposition are masters of the situation in the choice of topics, we do not escape more inconvenient situations than otherwise. As regards the number of days given to Supply, we are giving the minimum of twenty provided by the rule. So long as the requirements of the rule are satisfied, I do not think it is the function of the Opposition to determine the number of days. I think there we must consult the general wishes of the House. My belief is that the preponderance of opinion in the House is that Members will be more profitably occupied in the manner I have indicated than they would be if one, two, or three more days were given to Supply. Unfortunately it must happen with an Administration carrying on business under our rules of procedure that a large number of important topics must remain un-discussed in Supply every session. When this rule was first introduced it was on of our favourite topics on platforms to point out the enormous sums of money 246 which, under the operation of the guillotine, were voted away on the last two nights without a word of criticism. As to the Licensing Bill, the right hon. Gentleman ingenuously suggests that we should start the Committee stage now and; postpone the guillotine Resolution till the autumn session.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It is a small matter, but I should prefer two more days for Supply. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to give an earnest of sincerity to the country, I suggest I that he should move the guillotine Motion before the adjournment and take the whole of the Committee stage in the autumn.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I think he did make the other suggestion, but I do not press that. I merely wish to point out that if we began the first clause without the guillotine I am sure we should not get beyond the first line before the adjournment for the autumn recess. I think that I have endeavoured to answer the main points raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not in the least complain of his raising them. It will appear from what has been said that if we are to adjourn, as I take it the House will wish to do, on 1st August, we must adopt this Motion and distribute the time that remains between now and the adjournment in the manner proposed. There is only one other point that I ought to have mentioned in my opening remarks, and which may strike the House as one of importance, and that is that we propose to adopt and star as our own two private Members' Bills, a course which I think the Government ought never to take save where the Bills are in an exceptional position. With regard to these Bills both are in an exceptional position. The first is the Housing of the Working Classes (Ireland) Bill, which is a very important measure which has been made the subject of an 247 arrangement between the Chief Secretary, the Treasury, and the promoters of the Bill. It has to pass through the Report stage, and will not really take up any substantial part of the time still remaining. The other Bill is one in which the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London is interested. I hope the House will not suspect anything in the nature of a corrupt bargain, although the circumstances seem to be suspicious. But in point of fact, even if the hon. Baronet were not, as he is, the father and sponsor of this Bill, I think that the Government would have felt bound to adopt it in view of its exceptional character. It is the Wild Birds Bill, a measure which is absolutely indispensable in the interests of humanity and in order to put an end to a most cruel practice. I am quite certain that it cannot occupy more than a very few minutes.
§ MR. WALTER LONG (Dublin, S.)
said he had no objection to what had fallen from the Prime Minister with regard to the two Bills of which the Government proposed to take charge, but in reference to the allocation of time he would point out that only two days had been allotted to Irish Estimates. Although it was the practice to consult hon. Members below the gangway, he ventured to say that it would be fair to consult also the Irish Unionist representatives, who were not an unimportant section of the House, and who felt that a third day should be given to the Chief Secretary's Vote, which this year apparently was to be included among those to which no time would be allotted.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said he wanted to protest as a private Member, not against the number of days given to Supply by the system established under the late Government some years ago, but against the practice which had arisen of using Supply as a means of attacking the Government. He thought that the House had lost a great deal of power and of influence in the country by not looking more carefully after expenditure. He hoped that some day 248 or other they would get a better system than the present one of merely using Supply for attacking the Government and not for regulating the expenditure of the country.
§ MR. COURTHOPE (Sussex, Rye)
asked when the right hon. Gentleman was going to give a day or even a few hours to discuss the Report of the Hop Committee, which he understood was already in the hands of Members. He brought this matter up now because there were special reasons for his doing so. The right hon. Gentleman during the debate on the Address had himself admitted the extreme urgency of the question, and therefore he was sure that he was justified in pressing this fact upon his attention, namely, that the autumn session would not commence until after the hop harvest was over. That was the time, the moment the hops were picked, for the hop-grower to decide whether he would grub any part of his plantations. If the Government were going to do anything at all for the industry it was of the utmost importance that the growers should be made aware of it before they made their arrangements for August and September. He did not think that he was making an unreasonable request. A very short time would be required for making a statement on the matter, which he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree with him was one of importance. He thought that the discussion should take place before the adjournment instead of at the autumn sitting.
§ *MR. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green)
said he supported the Resolution with the exception of that part of it which provided for the adjournment of the House without Question put at the close of Government business. He looked upon that part of the Resolution as an infringement of the rights of private Members, because it deprived them of one of their opportunities of bringing before the House and country, questions of urgent public importance or questions affecting the interests of their constituents. Under the Resolution they would have no opportunity of calling attention to 249 any matter of urgency on the adjournment of the House, and if anything important arose they would have no chance of putting a Question to the responsible Minister from the Friday to the Monday. In the meantime grave events might arise which might have the result, in his own constituency for example, of plunging them into very serious difficulties. Take the case of a strike: it was possible that the employers might desire to defeat the efforts of the men by seeking to obtain the assistance of the military. It might be urged that such a thing could not take place. But he knew that such things had taken place, and that they would take place again, and it was necessary to be prepared on all occasions when the interests of their constituents were at stake. But if the Resolution were passed as it stood, they would have no opportunity on the adjournment of the House of raising any question. In the City of Dublin at the present moment there was a big strike going on, and efforts were being made to bring in the military. He appealed to the Prime Minister to take notice of this question, because an attempt was being made to crush the trade unionists. He saw the Secretary for War in his place. The right hon. Gentleman had experience of the military in Belfast, and he would put to the right hon. Gentleman that they did not want to see the military in the streets of Dublin in the same way. [Cries of "Question."] When he was out of order Mr. Speaker would intervene. This was the only opportunity he had of raising this very serious matter which affected the well-being of the citizens of Dublin. He was sorry that the Members of that House were so anxious to allow their privileges to be taken away in matters of this kind. What necessity was there for that part of the Resolution which prevented a Question being put on the Motion for the adjournment? That opportunity was only used on occasions of emergency, or when a private Member felt that he had something to bring forward of importance to his constituents and to the country. If they allowed the Resolution to be passed as it stood the very contingency he was describing might arise in connection with their own con- 250 stituencies. Therefore, he did not see why they should allow the Resolution to pass with these words in it. If the Prime Minister would consent to the deletion of these words he was sure that he would get support in nearly every quarter of the House. There was nothing to be gained by their retention, and in keeping them he held that they were doing that which was wrong. Private Members had very little opportunity of expressing their feelings, and day by day they found that their rights were being taken away from them. They ought, therefore, to be all the more jealous to guard them when occasion offered. In this Resolution they saw another instance of how they were being deprived of them. He knew the number of Bills which the House had to get through that day, and he did not want to put them to the trouble of a division, but he hoped the Prime Minister would take such steps in regard to the strike in Dublin that the Chief Secretary and the Minister for War would not allow the military to interfere in a trade dispute in that city, where the company which carried the mails were discharging the men simply because they belonged to trade unions. That was a matter about which he would have something to say when the Postmaster-General was in his place and opportunity offered. In the interests of his constituents and of private Members he thought that that was an occasion when notice should be taken of the question which he now submitted, and that the words to which he objected as an infringement of the rights of private Members should be deleted.
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
said the Opposition had always been reasonable. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would agree with him in that. The Government had not put down too much business for completion, with the one exception, of course, of the Licensing Bill. He did not know why that Bill should be taken now, in view of the autumn session. He was supported in his opinion by what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in August, 1904, when the House was going to adjourn, and there was no autumn session. The Chancellor 251 objected to the Licensing Bill of that day being taken and used these words:The right hon. Gentleman said this Bill must go through. Who were they who said it must? It was not the 'must' that arose out of any real need of the country; it was simply a political 'must.'The right hon. Gentleman was a true prophet then, and now that he was in power and was high priest he ought to remember his prophecy of days gone by, and should persuade the Prime Minister to hold over the Licensing Bill until the autumn session. He was glad that the Prime Minister had given the assurance not to press contentious measures after eleven o'clock, because he remembered an instance in which the right hon. Gentleman had said that legislation at a late hour of the night or an early hour in the morning was neither good for the laws that were made nor for the people who made them. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for having been kinder to the House than he had anticipated.
§ MR. BOWLES (Lambeth, Norwood)
said he wished to put before the House one consideration which had not been mentioned, but which appeared to have some importance. From that moment until the end of September Government business had precedence over all other business whatever. There remained of course certain rights to private Members notwithstanding the suspension of the orders, and the object of this Motion was to take away a good many, and some of the most important of these rights—for instance, the power of raising questions on the Motion for the adjournment and of bringing in Bills under Standing Order 11 and others. He agreed with all that had been said on that side that there might be good ground for a Motion of this kind, but as he understood the matter, such a Motion could only be justified upon the ground that it was necessary to take away private Member's rights in order to wind up the business of the session. But they had been told that this was not a Motion to enable the Government to wind up the business of the session. The House was merely adjourning on 1st August and meeting again in the autumn, and it appeared to him to be impossible for private Members to decide whether it 252 was reasonable of the Government to ask them to give up their rights for the remaining three weeks unless the Government told them whether or not they intended also to take away all their rights during the autumn session as well. If they proposed to do that it was a very strong thing to ask them to submit from that moment right through until Christmas to the deprivation of their rights. If the right hon. Gentleman could assure them that he had not at any rate closed his mind to the possibility of some right being left to private Members throughout the autumn session it would increase the friendly reception the Motion had met with.
§ VISCOUNT HELMSLEY (Yorkshire, N.R., Thirsk)
asked whether the list of Bills which the Government had starred was a final list or whether it was proposed to star any more measures later on. If not, he would like to ask the Government whether a system could not be devised whereby the waste of time caused by private controversial Bills going through the Standing Committees could be obviated, because it was rather absurd, when it was perfectly well known that a private Bill had no chance unless the Government took it up, that the time of Members should be wasted in attending Standing Committees, especially when at this period of the session they had to sit so late and had very important business to do. If something could be devised to obviate that waste of time it would be a great advantage to the House.
§ MR. SEAVERNS (Lambeth, Brixton)
said that while he had no fault whatever to find with the general conduct of the business of the House by the Government of which he was a loyal supporter, he would like to utter one word of criticism regarding the method in which the Port of London Bill had been handled. It was brought into the House under the ten minutes rule, having, no doubt, received very careful consideration by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It dealt with enormously important interests connected with the Port of London, and involved the purchase by public money of the docks of this great port. It constituted a new authority, the position of which required very careful 253 consideration, and, what to his mind was far more important than all this, it proposed to impose dues upon all goods imported into or exported from the port. In other words it established what amounted to an import duty plus an export duty on the trade of the Port of London. That Bill received exactly four hours discussion, and was then closured by the Government and referred to a Joint Committee. As one who was very deeply interested in the trade of the Port of London, and had had many years connection with it, it seemed to him that that discussion was so inadequate as almost to amount to no discussion at all. The Bill, he believed, would have the most careful and complete consideration by the Joint Committee, but he suggested that what would happen would be that when it came back on the Report stage those who desired to discuss it or to criticise the decisions of the Committee would be met with the argument that they were not as competent to deal with the matter as the special Committee which had heard all the evidence upon it, and eventually the result would be that the Bill which was of enormous importance to the Port of London and the adjacent territory would have been passed with practically no discussion at all.
§ MR. LANE-FOX (Yorkshire, W.R., Barkston Ash)
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman had considered the very great amount of detail involved in the discussion of the Housing Bill and whether the Government seriously meant to proceed with it in the autumn session; if not, whether it was necessary to put the Committee to the great labour of going through with a Bill which involved tremendous discussion. Further he asked whether the right hon. Gentleman could not consider the possibility of making some arrangement by which the law officers should be available to give legal decisions on the Grand Committees. There had been several cases of Bills of a controversial character on which legal opinion had been wanting. It was obvious that a man could not be in two places at once, and a law officer could not always be available to any Committee. On the Access to Mountains 254 Bill the other day they were left in a dilemma owing to the absence of any official definition of what a certain term would mean, and eventually the Committee, not altogether unwillingly, had to adjourn for luncheon till a law officer could be hunted up. When he came he was a Scottish law officer and under the Bill large questions of English law were involved, and he confessed his inability to give any opinion on the English law. He did not know what the Prime Minister's solution of the difficulty would be, but there was a very great disadvantage in having conflicting opinions by Gentlemen on opposite sides when there was no one to give a legal opinion on behalf of the Government.
§ MR. LEIF JONES (Westmoreland, Appleby)
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman could hold out any hope of the carrying of a small Bill which for two years he had been trying to get through the House, and which met with no real opposition—the Public Health Amendment Act, 1875 (Water Rights) Bill. The measure was in very great demand in country districts and the only opposition to it came from the Canal Association, who were afraid that their water supply might suffer. The promoters of the Bill had accepted the Amendments proposed by the Canal Companies. The Bill would have been through already, but for the fact that it had been blocked by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, on retaliatory principles. The Government now had means of squaring the hon. Baronet. The villages which were waterless were at least as much in need of the good offices of the Government as the birds. The President of the Local Government Board at the beginning of the session gave notice that he was going to introduce a Bill dealing with the point. The local council with which he was connected were looking hopefully forward to it, and as this small instalment would help the villages and would bring them water twelve months sooner he hoped the Government would take it up.
§ SIR FRANCIS CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said it was obvious that Bills which were now before or had passed through the Standing Committees, with 255 the exception of the two which had been starred, could not pass during the present period of the session, but many of them were useful and non - controversial Bills, and he wished to put in a plea for giving them a chance to pass in the autumn so that the labours of the Committees need not be wholly thrown away. If their labours were to be thrown away he supported the view that they had better not waste their energies any further.
§ MR. MACLEAN (Bath)
asked the Prime Minister whether the Children Bill was to be taken before the House rose on 1st August or at the beginning of the autumn sittings.
§ LORD R. CECIL
desired to support what had been said by the hon. Baronet the Member for East Northants and by his hon. friend the Member for Barkston Ash. He hoped the Government would carefully consider the Housing Bill before they asked a Committee to sit for days and days in regard to it. The principles of the Bill, he believed, found general acceptance in the House, but the details were exceedingly complicated and the drafting had not diminished the inherent difficulties of the question. He hoped the Government would arrange with one or more of their many legal supporters to be present on Standing Committees when the law officers could not be present and give assistance in that way to the Committee.
§ MR. ASQUITH
said, with regard to the Report of the Hop Industry Committee, that he gathered that it was a very elaborate and complicated document, and he was sure it would require a good deal of consideration before they could make any recommendation to the House. He could not hold out any hope of the Report being discussed before the adjournment. In reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Norwood, this Motion did not relate to the autumn session at all. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman had better wait until the storm burst. With regard to the starring of private Bills, the Government had had such a painful experience in the past of the results of, he would not say improvidently starring such Bills, but of 256 starring them without a very careful consideration both as to their subject-matter and as to the extent of the hostility they were likely to incur, that he thought both sides of the House would agree that the Government ought not to star a private Bill unless they were satisfied that there was practically a universal desire that it should be passed. Reference had been made to the possible waste of time by the discussion being continued in Grand Committee of private Member's Bills which there was no prospect, or, at any rate, no probability, of getting beyond that stage. He agreed that it would be most undesirable, indeed it would be farcical, for a Standing Committee to be wasting its time in the consideration of such a Bill, and, if there was such a possibility, he would take such steps as were in his power to prevent it. As regarded the Housing Bill, it was the hope and intention of the Government to get that Bill in the course of the autumn session. It was pre-eminently one of those Bills which a Standing Committee was thoroughly qualified to deal with, and he could not help hoping that sufficient progress would be made with it as to enable them to pass it into law. It was a new claim that on every Standing Committee there should be a law officer in constant attendance, but, being a lawyer himself, he was very much in sympathy with what he was glad to find was the general impression of the House, that legislation could not be conducted usefully in the absence of the lawyers. They had fortunately an ample reservoir of non-official legal talent, and he hoped they might be able to secure the valuable voluntary service of some of these Members in the future. At any rate, the suggestion of the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone would be considered. The Government proposed to take the Report Stage of the Children Bill at the beginning of the autumn sittings.
§ MR. HICKS BEACH (Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury)
asked the Prime Minister to give favourable consideration to the Married Women's Property Bill, which now stood for Third Reading. It had passed through Committee without amendment, there was, he believed, no 257 opposition to it, and it was desired by the Local Government Board.
§ MR. ASQUITH
said that if the hon. Member could bring him satisfactory assurances that the Bill was universally
§ desired the Government would raise no objections.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 203; Noes, 69. (Division List No. 183.)259
|Allen, A. Acland (Christchurch)||Gooch, George Peabody (Bath)||Morgan, G. Hay (Cornwall)|
|Allen, Charles P. (Stroud)||Greenwood, G. (Peterborough)||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)|
|Armitage, R.||Gulland, John W.||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon Herbert Henry||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius||Murphy, John (Kerry, East)|
|Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Halpin, J.||Nannetti, Joseph P.|
|Barker, John||Harcourt, Rt. Hn. L.(Rossendale||Nicholson, Charles, N.(Doncast'r|
|Barnard, E. B.||Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Nolan, Joseph|
|Barnes, G. N.||Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil||Norman, Sir Henry|
|Barran, Rowland Hirst||Hardy, George A. (Suffolk)||Norton, Captain Cecil William|
|Barry, Redmond J. (Tyrone, N.)||Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Worc'r)||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard|
|Beale, W. P.||Hart-Davies, T.||Nussey, Thomas Willans|
|Bell, Richard||Harwood, George||Nuttall, Harry|
|Bellairs, Carlyon||Haworth, Arthur A.||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Hazleton, Richard||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)|
|Boland, John||Hedges, A. Paget||O'Dowd, John|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Helme, Norval Watson||O'Grady, J.|
|Branch, James||Hemmerde, Edward George||O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.)|
|Brigg, John||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||O'Kelly,James (Roscommon, N.|
|Brodie, H. C.||Henderson, J.M.(Aberdeen, W.)||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Brooke, Stopford||Higham, John Sharp||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Bryee, J. Annan||Hobart, Sir Robert||Pearce, William (Limehouse)|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Hobhouse, Charles E. H.||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)|
|Burns. Rt. Hon. John||Hodge, John||Pirie, Duncan V.|
|Byles, William Pollard||Hope, W. Bateman(Somerset, N.||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.|
|Cameron, Robert||Hudson, Walter||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Hutton, Alfred Eddison||Price, C. E. (Edinb'gh, Central)|
|Causton, Rt. Hn. Richard Knight||Jacoby, Sir James Alfred||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)|
|Channing, Sir Francis Allston||Jenkins, J.||Priestley, W. E. B.(Bradford, E.)|
|Cheetham, John Frederick||Jones, Leif (Appleby)||Rainy, A. Rolland|
|Cherry, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Jowett, F. W.||Reddy, M.|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Joyce, Michael||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Cleland, J. W.||Kearley, Sir Hudson E.||Redmond, William (Clare)|
|Clough, William||Kekewich, Sir George||Ridsdale, E. A.|
|Clynes, J. R.||Kettle, Thomas Michael||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Cobbold, Felix Thornley||Kilbride, Denis||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)|
|Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||King, Alfred John (Knutsford)||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradf'rd|
|Collins, Sir Wm. J.(S.Paneras, W||Laidlaw, Robert||Robinson, S.|
|Compton-Rickett, Sir J.||Lambert, George||Roche, Augustine (Cork)|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Lamont, Norman||Roche, John (Galway, East)|
|Corbett, CH(Sussex, E. Grinst'd)||Layland-Barratt, Sir Francis||Rogers, F. E. Newman|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Leese, Sir Joseph F.(Accrington)||Rowlands, J.|
|Crean, Eugene||Lehmann, R. C.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Crosfield, A. H.||Lever, A. Levy (Essex, Harwich)||Russell, T. W.|
|Cullinan, J.||Lundon, W.||Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)|
|Curran, Peter Francis||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Samuel, Herbert L.(Cleveland)|
|Dalziel, James Henry||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Bg'hs)||Scott, A.H.(Ashton-under-Lyne|
|Devlin, Joseph||Maclean, Donald||Shackleton, David James|
|Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.)||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Dickinson, W.H.(St. Pancras, N.||Mac Veagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.)||Sheehy, David|
|Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||M'Callum, John M.||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Donelan, Captain A.||M'Crae, Sir George||Silcock, Thomas Ball|
|Duncan, J. H. (York, Otley)||Mallet, Charles E||Smeaton, Donald Mackenzie|
|Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne)||Manfield, Harry (Northants)||Smyth, Thomas F.(Leitrim, S.)|
|Evans, Sir Samuel T.||Marnham, F J.||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Everett, R. Lacey||Massie, J.||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Ferens, T. R.||Masterman, C. F. G.||Stanley, Hn. A. Lyulph(Chesh.)|
|Flynn, James Christopher||Meagher, Michael||Steadman, W. C.|
|Fuller, John Michael F.||Meehan, Francis E.(Leitrim, N.)||Stewart, Halley (Greenock)|
|Gibb, James (Harrow)||Menzies, Walter||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert John||Middlebrook, William||Straus, B. S. (Mile End)|
|Glendinning, R. G.||Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Summerbell, T.|
|Glover, Thomas||Mooney, J. J.||Sutherland, J. E.|
|Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)||Wason, John Cathcart(Orkney)||Williams, Llewelyn(Carmarth'n|
|Torrance, Sir A. M.||Watt, Henry A.||Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Trevelyan, Charles Philips||Weir, James Galloway||Wood, T. M'Kinnon|
|Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Wardle, George J.||White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Joseph Pease and Master of Elibank.|
|Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.||Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)|
|Wason, Rt. Hn. E.(Clackmannan||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Ashley, W. W.||Faber, George Denison(York)||Morrison-Bell, Captain|
|Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hon Sir H.||Faber, Capt. W.V. (Hants, W.)||Nicholson, Wm. G.(Petersfield)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Fell, Arthur||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A.J(City Lond.)||Gardner, Ernest||Pease, Herbert Pike(Darlington|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol, West)||Randles, Sir John Scurrah|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Gooch, Henry Cubitt (Peckham)||Rasch, Sir Frederic Carne|
|Baring, Capt. Hn. G(Winchester)||Gordon, J.||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.)||Gretton, John||Remnant, James Farquharson|
|Beach, Hn. Michael Hugh Hicks||Guinness, Walter Edward||Renton, Leslie|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Harrison-Broadley, H. B.||Sandys, Lieut.-Col. Thos. Myles|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Helmsley, Viscount||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley George D|
|Bowles, G. Stewart||Hill, Sir Clement||Sloan, Thomas Henry|
|Bull, Sir William James||Hope, James Fitzalan(Sheffield)||Smith, F.E.(Liverpool, Walton)|
|Carlile, E. Hildred||Houston, Robert Paterson||Stanier, Beville|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Hunt, Rowland||Starkey, John R.|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Joynson-Hicks, William||Talbot Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone, E.)||Kerry, Earl of||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J.G.(Oxf'd Univ.|
|Clark, George Smith||Lane-Fox, G. R.||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Lee, Arthur H. (Hants, Fareham||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Courthope, G. Loyd||Lockwood, Rt. Hn. Lt.-Col. A.R.|
|Craig, Captain James (Down, E.||Long, Col. Charles W.(Evesham)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir Alexander Acland-Hood and Viscount Valentia.|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Lowe, Sir Francis William|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Magnus, Sir Philip|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Mason, James F. (Windsor)|
|Duncan, Robert (Lanark, Govan||Meysey-Thompson, E. C.|
Question "That these words be there inserted" put, and agreed to.