, in rising to move—
said: I think, Sir, the House will expect from me that I should now, not, indeed, address them at any great length, but that I should attempt to set out more fully than I have done heretofore the views of the Government in introducing these Resolutions to the House. This is the more necessary, because, when we approached the general subject, the attention of the House was so attracted by the previous Resolutions, and particularly by the 1st Resolution, that I think it was hardly possible for them to comprehend and appreciate fully the motives with which we invited their attention to this particular subject. There is one admission which we make—namely, that the ground is experimental, and it will be seen what consequences we have attached to that admission. On the other hand, while we admit it to be experimental, I contend with the utmost confidence that this, and not any penal or restrictive Procedure, is the really fruitful field. Looking at the subject as a whole, what is required is that there should be nothing less than what is called a drastic reform of our Procedure; but, Sir, in my opinion, a man is not only in error, but he is in inexcusable and stupid error if he believes that a drastic reform in the Procedure of this House can be accomplished by any penal or coercive measures whatever. The measures which we have passed—and I do not undervalue them—will, I have no doubt, be perfectly effectual for cutting off certain gross abuses, and their aggregate effect will be very salutary, as I believe, towards enabling the House to perform its duties; but, in order to measure the whole of the ground that is before us, let us recollect the deplorable condition to which the House has latterly been reduced, and let us ask ourselves whether the whole of the distance between that deplorable condition and a satisfactory condition can possibly be dealt with by what are called penal or restrictive measures. Now, Sir, while we were undergoing the extreme pressure of our difficulties there was a disposition to lay the main blame on that portion of the Irish Members who sit below the Gangway on the other side of the House. But everyone must have been struck with this—that, as we have got to a distance from the occurrences themselves, and consequently have obtained a better perspective in order to appreciate them, there has been a disposition, not in one quarter of the House only, but even among sections of the House the most opposed to those Irish Members, to admit that, after all, there was a great deal of what they did that was to be accounted for by the necessity of their position and by the wants of their country, such as they estimated them to be. I am not, Sir, entering into that question as a question of the merits of the case, but I am entering into it to illustrate my view, which I commend to the reflection of hon. Members, and it is this—that it is idle, unless you get beyond the ground of what is merely restrictive or merely penal, to think that you can bring this House into a condition in which it can meet the general wants and the general and just expectations of the country. Sir, when we look at the House at this moment, we perceive this extraordinary anomaly—on the one hand, a great number of persons anxious and able to work; on the other hand, a great mass of work waiting to be done; and yet a barrier, insurmountable, between the people who want to do the work and the work that wants to be done. Now, Sir, it is not for me to speak of the mental capacity and power that exists in any quarter of the House excepting that one quarter, the largest, with which I have the honour to be confidentially united. But, speaking of that body which constitutes the Liberal Party in this House, I can say this with confidence that, having sat in 12 Parliaments of the late King and the present Sovereign, I have never known it to be possessed of a greater quantity of available intellectual capacity and moral readiness to do the work of the country than it is now; nor do I in the slightest degree wish to place it in any invidious comparison with any other quarter of the House. I only leave it for those who are more intimate with other quarters of the House to judge for themselves of the capacity of the present Parliament for work. But, speaking generally, I affirm that there is an immense amount of work which is in arrears, which requires to be done, which the country expects to be done, and which the country will not be satisfied unless it sees done. On the other hand, there are on this side of the House a large number of Members well qualified in every way to take part in the Business of the House who have been absolutely restrained from it and compelled to forego their right and almost to abandon their duty, as it might be called, were there not a higher duty the other way, lest they should bring to an absolute block that progress of Business which has been so lamentably slow. I will take a hypothetical case in illustration. Let me suppose that in some county of Ireland there were happily a discovery of vast mineral wealth where the district was populated very thinly. Let me also suppose that in the neighbouring counties or districts at a certain distance there was a very large surplus population. What should we think there of a state of law and a state of usage which prevented you from bringing that surplus population to work the mineral? Now, I say that all the Business of this House waiting to be done, all the measures that have been so often introduced and so often hopelessly and miserably postponed, are like that ungotten mineral wealth. We want the hand of Parliament to be applied to it—to fashion it, and bring it into the form in which it will be available for the wants of the country, oven as the ironstone is made into the most valuable of materials and becomes available for human wants. And the state of Procedure has been the barrier which has prevented us from so uniting those labouring and constructive powers that have existed in abundance with the work that waited almost hopelessly to be done. But, Sir, what is the way of making that union? No doubt, the removal of that barrier, so far as it consists of defective Rules of Procedure, we have attempted to effect; but having removed the barrier, we have now to bring the two things into contact. This must, in our opinion, be done by other measures of a different kind—by measures which rest on the principle of the division of labour, by multiplying the organs by which the House applies itself to and discharges its proper work. Well, Sir, is that a fair and proper description of the matter? How is this multiplication of organs to be attained? What are the evils with which we have to deal—the evils that we see before us? The first of them all was wilful and palapable Obstruction offered to the Business of the House in opposition to particular measures, often for their own sake and in order to defeat them. The second was a system of what may be called indirect or subtler Obstruction, which consisted in opposing measure A for the purpose of defeating measure B. The third evil—and it, too, is admitted to have existed in varying degrees—has been excess of speech; and we have got into habits which undoubtedly cause Business to be transacted in a cumbrous manner. The fourth evil has been, as we think and as the House has recognized, that, from various causes, there has been in the use of the Motion for Committee of Supply an invasion of the time at the disposal nominally of the Government, but really of the House, for considering the proposals of the Government—an invasion of that time which has crippled and obstructed the House in the performance of its greatest duty—namely, that of careful examination and criticism of the Government proposals in Supply. These four evils we have all of them in varying degrees endeavoured to meet by the 13 Resolutions that have been already passed. But, Sir, the other evil is this—the great waste of the power of the House by continually insisting that we should transact on this floor, by means of the whole, that which has special interest only for a part, and that which, experimentally, we know and find has adequate interest only for a part; because much of our time is occupied on measures relating to particular branches, particular services, particular descriptions of the public wants, which require special rather than general knowledge, and which are conducted on the floor of this House, not in the presence of the House at large, but in the presence only of limited portions of the House, who succeed one another in the discussion of those particular measures, but always acting in the name of the House, and on the part of the whole House; and in such a way as to prevent more than one of those measures from being conducted at the same time. Now, Sir, there is no doubt that, in certain cases in great countries, where the Business is far less voluminous than it is here, it has been found necessary to resort to sub-division as the proper mode of economizing the time of a Legislative Assembly. We do not propose to give any excessive application to that principle of sub-division. We propose to confine it to an endeavour to dispose of the stage of Committee of certain Bills upon certain subjects, and to leave to the House its full power over those Bills—nay, to require the House to go through the stages that precede the Committee and those that succeed the Committee, and, of course, to leave to the House its liberty if it think fit itself again to traverse the ground of the Committee, confident as we are that that is a course which it will very seldom be disposed to take. Well, Sir, the division of labour has lain at the root of all that has given, not only increased, but enormously multiplied efficiency to human industry in the field of commerce and of enterprize. It is this division of labour, but within proper and safe limits and well-considered, that we wish the House to try with respect to the great duties which it has to perform. We ask it to appoint two Committees; and we have endeavoured to meet apprehensions and to mitigate them by every security that we could offer to Gentlemen under the influence of those feelings. I do not hesitate to say, Sir, that, as far as I am concerned, I hope the day may come when some scheme more highly organized and of wider application than that which we now submit may be adopted by the House; so that every Member of the House, if it be possible, may find increased opportunities, through the medium of such a scheme, for applying himself to the discharge of public duties. For I do not hesitate to say that, in my opinion, one of the very serious evils of the present condition of Business in this House is the enormous restriction and limitation of the opportunities afforded to our junior Members. I do not speak merely of personal hardship on them—that is comparatively a small matter—but we are keeping back and by force preventing from devoting their minds and faculties to the service of the House the younger Members. By the operation of the present system an undue proportion of speaking is placed in the hands of a limited number of Gentleman, and a large proportion of Members cannot render that service to their country that they otherwise would, because they cannot find their way into the discussion of the Committees, and thus have no opportunity of testing their capacity by taking a reasonable share in the duties of the House. This, I am sure, Sir, is a liberative and not a gagging measure; it is an attempt to give to the House more hands, more arms, and more mouths for the discharge of its Business. The ancient poets used to invoke the Muses and bid them multiply their voices when setting forth upon some great work. We ask the House to multiply its own voices and its own hands, and thus, instead of transacting a limited Business in Committee in such a manner as that only one speciality can be dealt with at a time, enable it to deal with a far larger number. This is a liberating measure, and it is with great disappointment that I learn that certain hon. Members opposite view it with trembling and alarm, and would pursuade the House that this is a dangerous measure. Some time ago they declared it a dangerous thing to close the mouth of the House of Commons, and now they declare it a dangerous thing to open it. This is opening the mouth of Parliament. This is affording to the minds of Members of Parliament new scope, new fields of action, new means of expression. ["No, no!"] I am very sorry to hear that dissent from the noble Lord the Member for Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), because I am bound to say he has, in many junctures in the progress of these Resolutions, shown every disposition for a candid consideration of the matter. But that is the conviction which I venture to submit to the House. I may be asked, how have you endeavoured to spare the susceptibility of the House and the feelings of those who have a great horror of anything novel in Procedure? Well, Sir, we have endeavoured to do it by moderating our demands. We have endeavoured to do it by asking for an experiment, and an experiment alone. We have endeavoured to do it by saying the Resolution which we wish you to pass shall only be a Resolution in force until the close of another year. There are no bugbears here about reducing hon. Members to slavery; there are no horrors, at any rate, in prospect such as those to which we were treated during the debates on the 1st Resolution; and I feel perfectly satisfied with regard to these Resolutions that a brief experiment will afford a fair test, and enable the House to judge whether it ought to go back, whether it ought to stand at the point to which we invite it to go, or whether it ought to go further. When I consider the varied wants of this great Empire and the vast arrears of our legislation, I have in view these two things. First of all, my reference, no doubt, includes those questions upon which we are divided as Parties. Yet the arrears of that kind form a comparatively small portion of the arrears which we now see accumulated almost mountain high; and, Sir, when I consider what this country is, how rapid and constant is its development, how although it is politically and socially old, yet it is full of the energies of youth, full of the self-developing, self-expanding powers of youth, multiplying continually new avenues of exertion, creating continually new demands upon its Legislature and its public authority, I say great is the necessity that you should move in this direction. Nay, more; not only are we becoming now a nation of very large population moving onwards to our 40,000,000, and likely to attain it before the end of the present century, but we are a nation broken up locally also into various divisions, with some degree of various wants and specialities—a circumstance which we are be- ginning to recognize in different parts of the country. Specialities of law—most important specialities of law, particularly in the case of Scotland, where they amount to a system of law. Specialities, for example, in the case of Wales, which I do not say constitute in themselves a very formidable fact, but which until now it was not thought fit to admit or recognize, but which we now recognize, and the recognition of which, my knowledge of Wales enables me to say, was accompanied with the utmost benefit, and with the effect of rendering that most loyal people more profoundly attached to the Throne and institutions of the country. It appears to me that it is almost impossible to construct a stronger argument as regards the general princilpes of these liberating and enlarging Resolutions. I can see nothing in the way except doubts, misgivings, and questionings as to details. This mode of Procedure will be new, and because it is new we ask you to make the experiment for a short time in a safe manner, and only upon those subjects with which the painful considerations of Party cannot be mixed up. In the reform of the law, in measures relating to trade and shipping, we have not seen those embittering and envenoming elements hitherto present; and, consequently, we have selected those two subjects as the subjects upon which this experiment ought to be made. I am not asserting a universal proposition. It is conceivable that upon some question of trade or commerce, or some question of law, there might be important considerations—Imperial considerations—which would make them improper to be referred to these Committees, and proper to be retained within the judgment of the Heuse. Of course, there is the question, what is a Law Bill? Every Bill is a Law Bill in one sense; but still I am now using popular and not scientific language, and I speak of Law Bills as a class. And in the same way with regard to Trade Bills. I may be told that the Corn Law Bill was a trade measure, and that it was a measure that could not be thus referred; but my reply is, first, that happily we have over-lived those controversies, and they are settled, and the recent attempts to revive them have only shown how complete and irrevocable they are. Secondly, if indeed it be possible, and I doubt whether it be possible, that a Trade Bill should some day or other come to be a formidable question between classes and between sides of this House, the House will retain its power, and be in a condition to make an exception for such a Bill. Questions of detail may be asked. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Mr. J. G. Talbot) asked what was to be the quorum of these Committees. This problem, however formidable, I think the intellectual capacity of the House will be found equal to. Even at a venture, one may say, if these Committees are to run from 60 to 80 Members, that the mere suggestion of a quorum of 20 cannot have anything in it very fatal. Another question we have thought so important that we have proposed to provide for it by a Resolution, and that is the appointment of the Chairmen of these Committees. It is quite clear to us that the appointment of Chairmen is a matter too considerably important to be left altogether to the Committee itself. I believe it ought to be retained in the discretion and authority of the House, and we have proposed a method by which it may be so retained. There were two methods by which it might have been done. It might have been done by appointing, by the direct vote of the House, the Chairman for such and such a Standing Committee. The reason why we have not adopted that method was because we felt that if it were adopted it might possibly be thought that there was a latent intention to bring the influence of Government to bear on the majority of the House for the purpose of determining the choice of the Chairman. In order to avoid any such suspicion, which we felt would be a very mischievous suspicion, and would threaten the well-working of the plan, we have proposed a plan which will place out of the reach of the majority, but under the control of a body whom the House can trust, the determination of the question who shall be Chairman of a Committee for the time upon one or another particular Bill. Then there is the question of the time when these Committees shall meet. It is a question which may be open to consideration and debate if we ever come to any large or full development of the system; but I apprehend there can be no doubt that if Committees of this kind are to meet experimentally, they will meet very much in the hours in which Select and Private Committees meet now. As to the place where they will meet, I am given to understand that although it might be a serious question if we were now attempting to constitute a complete system, yet as regards either one or even two Committees, there would be no practical difficulty with apartments that we have already at our hand. Then, with respect to the procedure of these Committees, these Committees will have a law of procedure ready made to their hand. I am not aware that there is any essential particular in which it will be requisite that they should deviate from the law of procedure now in force in Select Committees. It may be convenient—in fact, it would almost follow from the numbers in which they would probably meet—that their debates, their discussions, would be less interlocutory and conversational, and would more nearly approximate to the character of regular discussion, and, if so, very probably speeches might be delivered as they are in this House; but, certainly, if any of us are tempted by evil habits, or evil attractions, to excess in speeches we may make, I think the House will perceive there will be very little of that attraction in these Committees. The Press of the country, it is very important to recollect, does not give that attention to our debates now which it used to give to them 40 or 50 or 60 years ago, and still less could it be a matter of universal interest to the public to have the proceedings of these Committees largely reported. If there be a danger in the temptation to celebrity acquired through that medium, such a danger would be either removed or brought to its minimum under a measure of this kind. And, Sir, one advantage which I believe will result from the adoption of this proposal I cannot refrain from pointing out. We all of us know that one of the most subtle and dangerous mischiefs we have now to deal with is what I have called indirect or subaltern Obstruction—Obstruction not meant for a measure on which it may take place, but for some other which the Obstruction blocks out. That temptation will, within the sphere of these Committees, be absolutely removed. It is true we have attempted to apply a cure to it; it is true that the vigilance of the Chairman will in extreme cases be able to apply a cure; but the action of this form of Obstruction is by far too subtle to allow anything like immediate or universal detection, and as long as temptation to this subaltern Obstruction continued, the evil itself could not be got rid of. A merely coercive measure against it could not possibly get rid of it. It might often happen under our present system that some necessary measure relating to trade or shipping or of law reform might be debated at inordinate length to prevent a particular measure coming on. Let us arrive at a system, or approach as nearly as possible at a system, under which a measure shall stand—if I may use a homely expression—upon its own legs, and shall not be liable to be thrust out of debate, by means which its opponents may possess of working indirectly and underground, some other measure for the purpose of excluding it. I think I have said as much as is necessary to explain the general view with which this measure is proposed. Having said that it is proposed experimentally, I hope I need not do more than add in very simple terms that it is experimentally proposed in good faith. The question of how far it may be susceptible of future development, as I believe, to the immense comfort and advantage of all sides of the House, is, I admit, a question that is still lying in the regions of conjecture and speculation—solvitur ambulando. A complaint of this kind must be tested by experience. It would be idle, it would be wrong, to say that we had in our minds some great scheme into which this very modest, very humble proposal is to extend. That is intended to enable you to test the measure, to enable you, by making one forward step, to form a safe and a clear judgment whether you shall take another forward step; but I do not hesitate to say that if I may assume a favourable result which I desire to put to the proof of experience, I cannot but contemplate with the utmost joy the fruits that will ultimately proceed from it—greater satisfaction given to all wants, both local and Imperial; the attention of this House as a whole concentrated more worthily and systematically upon the greater subjects; the younger Members of the House, as I have said, not shut out from the first fair opportunities of manifesting their capacity to serve their country; a greater amount of work, as I hope, if we succeed in this experiment, and are encouraged to continue them, done for the advantage of the country, and to meet its necessities; and, finally, I am not ashamed to say, especially as I have no practical interest in it myself, a considerable relief for the Members of Parliament for the future from the enormous physical labours which they have been called upon to endure in recent times. These are the great fruits and advantages which I think it right to present to you. I do not attempt to dwell on the future; but I think I have said enough to show that this modest experiment which we propose, and which we look upon as the best and healthiest part of the whole of our scheme with regard to Parliamentary Procedure, because it is a liberating, and not a restraining part—that this experiment—an experiment which, as we firmly believe it, shall be successful—will ultimately develop itself into a most profoundly valuable National institution. The right hon. Gentleman then moved the first Resolution relating to Standing Committees."That two Standing Committees be appointed for the consideration of all Bills relating to Law and Courts of Justice, and to Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures, which may be committed to them respectively,"
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That two Standing Committees be appointed for the consideration of all Bills relating to Law and Courts of Justice, and to Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures, which may be committed to them respectively."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
rose to move the omission from the Resoultion of all but the word "That."
SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
, rising to Order, said this would shut out an Amendment which he had given Notice of some time ago. He wished to know whether his Amendment should not take precedence?
said, that the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Assheton Cross) proposed to leave out all the words after "That," and to insert other words. In putting the Question, he would be bound to put it in the form, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," and if that was agreed to no further Amendment could be put. He had no alternative but to call upon the right hon. Baronet.
SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, if the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Blake) had been in his place during the speech of the Prime Minister he would not have been surprised at the Prime Minister's refusal to receive a deputation on a subject of great importance; because the importance of the present subject had been increased by the speech they had now heard, and it was evident that the House was entering on a totally now question in a large and wide spirit. He hoped that all those Members who had been only a very short time in Parliament, and who only came in at the last Election, would excuse him, if he reminded them that during the present Parliament the House of Commons had never been in proper working order. It had always been working under Rules of Urgency and under the pressure of circumstances which prevented it from making proper use of its time. He hoped hon. Members would also bear in mind that in discussing this question they were not discussing a Party question at all. It was simply a question of how the Business of the country was to be got through, and how it was to be best done; and, therefore, he was glad to hear from the Prime Minister that the House was to be free to enter on its discussion without being subjected to any pressure as to the decision at which it should arrive. The Prime Minister had admitted very frankly that he did not approach this question with anything like the confidence with which he had approached the other proposals in regard to the Business of the House.
I beg pardon. I approach the experiment with confidence.
SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
Well, the Prime Minister did not evidently approach it with the same certainty of success; for while they did not hear of any of the other proposals being introduced as an experiment, he startled them by saying that this scheme was to be purely experimental, and he could not guarantee how it would answer or succeed. The Prime Minister had said that the House had suffered from—first, wilful and palpable Obstruction; secondly, indirect and subaltern Obstruction; thirdly, excessive speech; and, fourthly, taking up the Government time by Motions on going into Committee of Supply. Those were the four causes which had prevented Parliament from doing its work. The Prime Minister had said that the House had already, to a great extent, met these cases by the penal and restrictive Resolutions which had been passed. That was so, and if those Resolutions were really carried out, as the Prime Minister believed they would be—there were some of them to which he objected, but he was not dealing with objections then— the right lion. Gentleman had great hopes that the elasticity of the old House of Commons would re-appear, and practical legislation would be carried into effect. He did not suppose that the Prime Minister would suggest that under the old Parliaments legislation did not go on well, rapidly, and effectively, or that the right hon. Gentleman would have ventured to make the complaints which he had made of the Parliament of 1868 or of an earlier period. It was because the House had suffered from those four distinct characteristic forms of Obstruction that it was crippled and paralyzed and unable to do that work which it would otherwise be well able to do under good guidance. The Prime Minister was not content with those penal and restrictive Resolutions, but said—"I must also give you a liberating and enlarging measure by which this House will be enabled to pass more measures." The right hon. Gentleman said there were men anxious and willing to work, and that there was a great deal of work waiting to be done. He objected to the statement that there were such men on the Liberal side only. ["No, no!"] Yet the Prime Minister had said that he would only answer for the Liberal side of the House. He should have thought, from the proceedings of the last two or three years, that there was a large number of men on both sides of the House well able to do such work; but, apart from that, the right hon. Gentleman asked what they were going to do. Practically, what the right hon. Gentleman said was that they wanted more Parliaments than one. One Parliament was not enough, and, therefore, they must break Parliament up into a number of bureaux. Now, that was a very curious question. The right hon. Gentleman said that the public expected work to be done. But it ought to be remembered also that the public expected work to be done well, and it was much better that the work should wait for some time than that it should not be done well. But there was another matter which ought to be borne in mind, and that was that pressing matters often came suddenly before the House and prevented it from doing its work in the ordinary course. In 1868, and following years, a great deal of time had been taken up by measures of the Prime Minister's own, relating to the Irish Land Question, the Irish Church, and Irish Education. In the Parliament of 1874 there was a great complication of foreign affairs; and in the present Parliament there was the pressure of Irish Business, which had prevented the House from taking up legislation which would otherwise have been introduced. Did the right hon. Gentleman suppose that if, during the periods he had mentioned, Parliament had been broken up by those Committees sitting upstairs, he would have been able to pass those great measures? [Mr. GLADSTONE: Yes.] Well, he disagreed with the right hon. Gentleman. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would have found it impossible to do anything of the kind. The present House of Commons had been spoken of as the best ever elected, and it appeared to him the most extraordinary suggestion he had ever heard to cripple and break that Parliament up into little Parliaments. It was true that, as a matter of favour, the right hon. Gentleman held it out to thorn that the House might discuss the second reading of the Bills which were to be referred to those Committees. The Bills would again be discussed on the Report and on the third reading. No Bills ought to pass that House without adequate discussion, and to break the House up into bureaux was foreign to our system, and recommended by no authority except one of the Clerks of the House. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Three Speakers.] Those Speakers had expressed modified and guarded opinions which the right hon. Gentleman had magnified and brought forward as authority for the propositions which he had made. But the right hon. Gentleman had shadowed forth proposals which ought to make this House even more anxious. Not only were there various measures which were to be referred to those Committees, but there were various classes of persons in the Kingdom especially interested in each subject, and able, therefore, to give especial atten- tion to it in those Committees. He had shadowed out that there were questions relating specially to Scotland, that loyal Kingdom, which would become even more loyal if it were allowed to discuss its affairs upstairs——
I did not say that. I never used such an expression, or intimated such an idea, that Scotland should be allowed to discuss its affairs by itself.
SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, the Prime Minister stated that there were measures relating to Scotland which might specially be discussed in one of those Committees; and even Wales was raked up in order to show that different Nationalities had different special questions to be discussed in these Grand Committees. What was the natural result? What was the natural inference to be drawn? It was, that if these Committees were once set up, Scotch and Irish measures would then be relegated to a Committee specially composed of Scotch and Irish Members; and so even with Wales. Without entering upon the advisability of such a course, he would say that the House was entering upon a novel experiment, of which it knew nothing, and that it was proposed to break the House up in bureaux, and even into nations. They were departing from the immemorial custom of the House in forming Committees, which custom had always been to represent en Committees both sides of the House, giving only a majority of one to the Government. The Prime Minister was attempting to do that which he had attempted in 1868 unsuccessfully—to alter the constitution of Committees of that House. In 1868 the Prime Minister had tried to make the constitution of Committees correspond with the proportion existing in the House between the two great Parties. Now he was attempting to introduce a similar principle. In Irish Business regard would have to be had to Irish Members, and in Scotch Business to Scotch Members. They were entering upon a new and dangerous course. He did not think the House would adopt that principle without severe criticism. The result would be to transfer the debate from the Committee stage to the Report. Debates would take place with the Speaker in the Chair which would otherwise have been carried on in Committee. The House would never abandon its func- tions, and debates, instead of being shortened, would be longer than heretofore. The Prime Minister proposed that those Committees should be confined to law, commerce, and trade. He was quite wrong in saying that political questions could not come up in Committees on these subjects. One of the gravest political questions ever fought in that House was the Navigation Laws, and they might have in the future serious discussions as to the Criminal Law in Ireland. But he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) would assume that it was a bonâ fide Bill, the details of which it was desirable to thrash out in Committee. He would take the case of the Settled Land Bill. [Mr. GLADSTONE was understood to say that was not a Bill of the class referred to.] It was essentially a Law Bill, and he rather suspected that the Prime Minister had never read it, which it would be very desirable that both he and his Friends should do before making speeches on the Land Question. But if they referred that Bill to a Grand Committee they would never have had the same constant attendance, the same careful attention which they had in the small Select Committee to which that Bill was referred. In a Grand Committee principles would have been settled by Members who had not heard the arguments coming in and voting, and the Bill would not have passed without serious alteration in the House. Then, take the Bankruptcy Bill. They would probably have two or three Bills sent to the Committee; but the Committee must take one Bill and proceed upon it, and the Members whose Bills had been laid aside would be constantly trying to thwart the other Members of the Committee. What was really wanted was to send Bills to Committees which would thrash them out in all their details; and he was persuaded that smaller Committees, such as were at present in vogue, were calculated to do the work more efficiently than Grand Committees. These Grand Committees were too large to thoroughly sift out the details, and they were far too small to carry the principle of a Bill in a way that the House would accept. The Resolution appeared to him to make a mixture and a bungle; it was neither one thing nor another—neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. Principles were not confined to second readings; the principle often lay in these complicated Bills in a clause, and, according to the proposal, they had not a Committee large enough to carry weight with the House, or small enough to insure the details being thoroughly sifted. And then, again, respecting the attendance of Members. They must have the traders and lawyers on these Committees, and, he presumed, the hours would be the same as for ordinary Committees; but how were the traders and lawyers to attend at these times?
The Settled Land Bill.
SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that that was the strongest illustration for his point, because he believed, when he himself practised at the Bar, that lawyers were excused from ordinary Committees on the understanding that upon any special Bill requiring the attendance of lawyers they were bound to attend. This, however, was going to be altered. They were to have a Standing Committee, to which the Law Bills of all Billmongers—if he might use the expressson without direspect—were to be submitted; and a similar thing would happen in the case of the merchants——
There will be the second reading.
SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he was aware of that; but, of course, every Bill relating to Law, the Courts of Justice, Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures, that had been read a second time would go to one of these Standing Committees. The Government, however, would get neither their lawyers nor their merchants. They expected 80 Members on each Committee—that was 160 in all—a good slice out of the House; and what, he asked, was to become, then, of private Bill and ordinary Committees? Where were they to get their men? They had not an inexhaustible supply. One of the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman was that his proposal would give to the younger Members opportunities which were now denied them; that the junior Members of that House would take part in those Committees, and rise by degrees to be Chairmen of Grand Committees. He did not agree with that statement. The Select Committees under the present system afforded admirable opportunities for young Members to distinguish themselves—better opportunities than existed anywhere else in the world. So far as his general objections to these Committees went, he was content to let the case rest here. Without going into all the arguments, he believed he had said enough to show the gravity of the proposition which was made by the Government. It was a grave and serious matter—it was a matter wholly new; it had never been debated in that House. The House had sat for five weeks in an Autumn Session—had sat an almost unprecedented time during the year, and at the end of that period was called upon, when the House was growing rapidly thinner and thinner, to discuss one of the most important changes in its Procedure which had ever been brought forward for its acceptance. The House was now asked to accept this innovation—that the Resolution was to be passed only as a Standing Order for the Session. If they were to have an experiment at all, he thought it ought to be in a different direction. He should prefer one Committee instead of two. He could never understand why that very pressing measure, the Bankruptcy Bill, had not been read a second time and referred to a Select Committee, and that step might be taken next year, in order to see what would be the result. The Prime Minister could, if he pleased, when the Bill came back from the Select Committee, propose to negative the stage of Committee of the Whole House, which was frequently done in the Upper House. He thought he had given sufficient reasons, at any rate, why, at the present time, and with these empty Benches, they should not enter on this important question. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to insert the words "it is not expedient to consider the matter of the proposed Resolution at this period of the Session."—(Sir Richard Cross.)
Question proposed, "That the word 'two' stand part of the Question."
said, he was sure that everyone would agree with the Government that these Standing Committees should only be experimental and continue to the end of the Session. The change now proposed to be made was one of the greatest importance. It had been stated by the right hon. Gentle- man that it would be desirable to leave the details of important Bills to be settled by a Committee of experts. That was a principle which he thought was likely to be productive of much evil. He could not believe that it would be wise, for instance, to leave questions of legal procedure to be settled by a Committee, the great majority of which was composed of lawyers. Lawyers were not likely men to initiate or carry out any large scheme of Law Reform. Then, as to Merchant Shipping, he could conceive nothing more mischievous than to leave such a Bill entirely in the hands of the shipping interest. The great safeguard of that House and the country was that there was always present, or might be present in Committee of the Whole House, a large number of Gentlemen of sound common sense, who were not interested, either themselves or through their constituents, in the immediate matter under discussion, and who would keep in check any personal influence or feeling which might be entertained by the expert Members of the Committee. There were many details of this proposal which had not been explained, and which ought to be discussed at the present stage. He wanted to know how Bills were to be distinguished. It was proposed to have two Grand Committees, one for Bills relating to law and Courts of Justice, and the other to trade and commerce. Let them take the subject of bankruptcy. Was that a question of law or of trade and commerce? It might be said it was mercantile; but he should not like to see a Bankruptcy Bill passed through that House which had not received the advantage of the wide experience possessed by legal Gentlemen. There was another Bill which had been brought before them—a Bill to consolidate the Law of Partnership. Was not that a measure which it was almost impossible to hand over entirely to one or other of these Committees? There was another difficulty in connection with Standing Committees. At present every Member had an opportunity of discussing the details of the measures brought forward, and of enunciating the views of their constituents. Great interest was now taken by the large mercantile and agricultural constituencies in the legislation affecting them, and a large number of Chambers of Commerce and Agriculture existed throughout the country for that purpose. If questions affecting them were transferred to Standing Committees two-thirds of the Representatives of such constituencies would be disfranchised and unable to fulfils the mandate of their constituents. It might be said that the House could discuss these Bills on Report; but he very much doubted if the House would be willing to open technical subjects again which had once been settled in Committee. It was a question of great importance at what time these Committees would sit. If they sat in the daytime he could see the greatest difficulty in obtaining the attendance of lawyers from day to day, and it was impossible to expect that bankers and others engaged in the City of London could spare the time; and those were the very men it was desirable to have on Grand Committees. If, on the other hand, these Committees were to sit contemporaneously with the House, most important questions might be settled in the latter when the Members of the Committees who were not present could not vote, and thus many constituencies would suffer disfranchisement with respect to certain questions. He feared, also, that a species of Home Rule would be encouraged by the existence of these Committees; and he protested against the proposals already made for handing over to Scotch Members all legislation affecting Scotland, to Irish Members legislation affecting Ireland, and to Welsh Members legislation affecting Wales. The mode in which Chairmen of Grand Committees were to be appointed was remarkable; the House would have no voice in their election. Another danger was the possibility that these Committees might sometimes subvert the principle of a Bill, and there appeared to be no provision against that evil. What he wished to lay greatest stress on was the extreme danger that important mercantile constituencies might on many occasions practically be disfranchised by this proposal. If in the Committees there were not to be more than 60 or 80 Members, town after town would be unable to take part, through its Representatives, in modelling the form of a Bill. He thought the great advantage of the present system was that particular interests could not succeed in any large question. This was specially ensured by the constitution of Select Committees on Private Bills. Railway Bills were not committed to railway experts, but to disinterested persons to protect public interests. He should be very glad if some statement was made answering the various points which he had brought forward, and satisfy him that the proposed innovation would be a sound, wise, and Constitutional one.
SIR HENRY HOLLAND
said, that the immediate question before the House was whether this suggested alteration of their present mode of Procedure was not of such importance that it ought not to be discussed and settled now in a very thin House at the end of an Autumn Session? Now, he thought the Prime Minister had shown how very important this question was, for what had he said? He had held out a promise, or threat, as Members on that side of the House would be inclined to consider it, that if this limited change of Procedure were to prove successful, it would lead to a wider scheme and larger organization; in other words, it would lead to a revolution in the Business of the House. This showed the vast importance of the present proposals, and showed that it was unfair and improper that it should be settled at this period of the Session. He would, with the permission of the House, state why he was opposed to these Grand Committees. He was an advocate for Select, or what were called Hybrid Committees, as against these Grand Committees. The Prime Minister, in his eloquent and interesting speech, had pointed out how there was work to be done on one side of a barrier, and workmen ready to do the work on another; and he proposed to level this barrier by Grand Committees. But the work could be brought to the workmen as well, if not better, by Select Committees, and without any great change such as that now proposed. The Prime Minister had pointed out some four or five evils arising out of the present system. But he (Sir Henry Holland) was quite unable to see how these evils would be specially remedied by the present proposals, Take, for instance, the third evil which was pointed out—namely, the excess of speech. He did not dispute the existence of the evil; he did not dispute that Members would get up and reiterate arguments that had been fully laid before the House; but would not this excess of speech be indulged in on these Grand Committees, and on the Reports of these Committees to the House? In truth, there would be far more discussion upon the Reports of these Grand Committees than on Reports of carefully selected small Committees, as their Reports would not, he believed, carry so much weight with the House as the Reports of such Select Committees. Take, again, the fourth evil referred to by the Prime Minister—namely, the present invasion of the time required for a critical examination of a measure. But that kind of examination was secured by Select Committees; and it was, to say the least of it, doubtful whether such examination would be secured on Grand Committees, for the reasons pointed out so forcibly by the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood). Again, the Prime Minister complained of the waste of the time of the House in discussing in the House details of measures which only interested part of the House. This objection would be entirely removed by referring more measures to Select Committees; but he ventured to support what had been said by the hon. Member for Hull, that there was considerable danger in referring the details of measures only to persons specially interested in them. It would be very undesirable to refer legal measures to Grand Committees mainly composed of lawyers. Such measures materially affected merchants, traders, bankers, and commercial men generally, who should have full opportunity for discussing them; and the same observation applied to other Bills which would come under the terms of the Resolution. It would be very dangerous to refer certain classes of Bills to Grand Committees, and thus practically to deprive the House of the power of dealing with them in Committee, because they only interested a part of the House. Again, the Prime Minister urged that uuder the present system younger Members were kept out of work, and had their mouths shut. But why should this be so, if Bills were more generally referred to Select Committees, as he (Sir Henry Holland) ventured to advocate? A young Member, acting as one of 10 to 20 Members on a Select Committee, would learn far more useful work, and have far better opportunities of speaking, and doing real work, than if he were one of a Grand Committee of 60 to 80 Members. The Prime Minister deprecated discussion on matters of detail in the working out of this Resolution; and, so far as the appointment of Chairmen and the number of the quorum were concerned, he (Sir Henry Holland) did not suppose there would be much difficulty. But some matters of detail were of great importance, and showed the impracticability of the scheme. Take, for example, the question of the time when these Committees were to sit. It would be impossible for lawyers and merchants and men in business to attend regularly de die in diem upon them. They could make arrangements, though not without difficulty, to attend at present on Select Committees, sitting two days a-week and for a comparatively short time, but they could not attend day by day on these Grand Committees; and the consequence would be that the measures would be left in the hands of those who were not so busy and not so materially interested in the matter under consideration. Another point of detail, but a very important one, was, that it would be exceedingly difficult to provide attendance on Private Bill Business. Everyone knew that it was difficult enough now to secure such attendance; but deplete the House of working Members by employing some 160 to 200 Members on these Grand Committees, and it would be found most difficult to provide Chairmen and Members for Private Bills and Select Committees on other subjects than those to be referred to the Grand Committees. The Prime Minister said that he believed one special class of Obstruction—namely, the inordinate talking on one Bill with a view to prevent discussion upon some other measure, would be stopped by the establishment of Grand Committees. But would this be the case? Assume that two Bills on law or trade were referred to one Grand Committee, why should not Members, if so inclined, obstruct the discussion of one of those measures by talking at great length on the other? Obstruction would only be removed from the Committee of the House to the Grand Committees, and the Business of the country would be equally delayed. For these reasons he should support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir P. Assheton Cross), as the question was far too important to be discussed at this time of the year.
said, that the question was whether this proposal of the Government was calculated to facilitate Business. He admitted that the present practice was by no means free from ob- jection. Suppose a Bill of a somewhat difficult and technical character was proposed, and Members practically acquainted with the subject discussed it in Committee and proposed Amendments, they were liable to be overruled by Gentlemen flocking in from the Library or the Smoking Room who had not heard a word of the arguments. Another evil attendant upon Committees of the Whole House was the power of raising Amendments without Notice. They had Gentlemen continually getting up and proposing Amendments which they themselves hardly considered, and which it was impossible for the House to consider on the spur of the moment. He had some experience in preparing legal documents, and he was sure that no man having a practical acquaintance with the subject would adopt Amendments proposed at a moment's notice in such a manner; but, nevertheless, these were matters which might be dealt with without making that great change which was contemplated by this proposal. It was proposed that they should have two Grand Committees, one dealing with Bills relating to law, the other with Bills affecting commerce, trade, or manufactures. He ventured to say that it was impossible to separate the two things, for law and trade went together. They were pari materiâ. It would be most unsatisfactory to have Bills connected with legal procedure, measures relating to bankruptcy or partnership, properly considered by lawyers without the assistance of Gentlemen like his hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood), who had practical acquaintance with the subject. Then the work of the Grand Committees might become distasteful to Members selected to act upon them. They might absent themselves, and what weight could then be attached to the labours of the Committee? Again, it seemed to him that the Government proposal was unworkable, as so many interests were connected with one another that it was impossible to touch one without affecting all; a consideration which would always be present in the mind of the House when it reviewed the work of a Standing Committee, and would detract from the value of the work done. At any rate, the Resolution was so surrounded with difficulties of the most practical character that it ought not to be passed without more consideration than it had as yet received. He admitted the defects of the present system of considering all Bills in Committee of the Whole House, and should prefer some modification of the system of Select Committees, which, he had always thought, worked extremely well, especially when, as in the case of the Settled Land Bill and the Elementary Education Bill, the Committee had the assistance of the draftsman of the measure. That system was capable of great extension, and it would be well, in his opinion, to refer all Bills of a technical character to Select Committees chosen, if not by the Committee of Selection, at least without regard to Party politics. They might be open Committees, the public being admitted to their deliberations, and might take two or three Bills at a time, their decisions as to which should be subject to the approval of the House. That, he thought, was a practical and prudent suggestion, and would compare favourably with the extreme and unworkable proposal of the Government.
MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he was glad to have reached the discussion of Resolutions which involved no Party considerations; but that, he noticed with much regret, did not seem to be the sentiment of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The truth was that they were afraid to speak in the presence of the Prime Minister. With only one exception, none of them had spoken on this subject, though everyone would wish to improve the Procedure of the House, and everyone could bring his experience to bear on the point at issue. Judging from the speech of the Prime Minister, he should have supposed that the acceptance of the Resolution would insure some vast result, such as the attainment of the Millennium; and yet, having listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman, he found in his speech no indication of the way in which that consummation was to be brought about. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Resolution had excited much alarm; but the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) had given unanswerable reasons for the apprehension that was felt. Several simple considerations showed the unworkable character of the Resolution. The first proposition he would venture to put before the House was the question, Why the House met at 4 o'clock in the afternoon? It had been proposed that the House should meet at 2 o'clock and adjourn at an earlier hour; but that proposition had not been accepted, because many Members of the House were engaged in commercial pursuits or in the Legal Profession, and found it impossible to get down to the House before 4 o'clock, and the House, wishing to avail itself of the experience and knowledge of those hon. Members, had agreed to meet at 4 o'clock for their convenience. It, however, appeared to him that in the future the House was going to discuss special legal and commercial matters at a time when it would not be convenient for hon. Members interested in those subjects to attend the House. That was a proposition which no one could dispute, and it was astonishing that anyone not possessed of the simple and childlike faith of the Prime Minister should imagine that the mere passing of the Resolution would bring business men down to the House at impossible times. Again, there was a certain amount of difficulty and danger to be provided against in the constitution of these Grand Committees. He would take the case of a Bill affecting railways or merchant shipping, in which many Members of the House were interested. In the case of a Merchant Shipping Bill, the numerous Members representing the mercantile ports of the Kingdom would, he supposed, be nominated to the Committee; and, if that were done, they would naturally mould the Bill in accordance with the special interests and objects of their constituents. When the Bill came back to the House so moulded as to suit the special requirements of those who represented the shipping interest, more time would be spent in putting back some of the original proposals than would have been bestowed on the measure if it had remained in the House altogether. If, on the other hand, none of the shipping Members, or only a small number of them, were put on the Committee, they would all claim to speak on the Bill when it came back to the House, and would urge that if they were not heard on the subject their constituencies would be practically disfranchised. The hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) had truly observed that it was especially desirable to make progress with Consolidation Bills. Under the existing system, when such Bills had been considered by a Select Committee, they were readily accepted by the House, because it was known that the Committee had thoroughly thrashed out all the details. Now, however, it was proposed to deal with such measures in a totally novel way, and he did not think that their passage through the House would be thereby facilitated. Hon. Members, it should be borne in mind, would be compelled to serve on these Grand Committees. It was true, indeed, that the remedy was in their own hands, and that they could refuse to attend; and this was very much, he feared, what would occur. A large number of Members would be put on the Grand Committee for the Session who would not care anything for half the Bills sent for their consideration, and, consequently, they would not attend. The House, he thought, would not repose so much confidence in the Report of such a Committee as they did now in the recommendations of a Committee appointed by themselves for the purpose of considering a particular Bill. He did not view this proposal with alarm; but he entertained a somewhat strong opinion as to its absurdity. He trusted that the House would see the desirability of postponing the consideration of proposals which would be practically useless and which might be mischievous.
LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he agreed with the last speaker that it was rather a strong proceeding to ask the House to construct a new system of Procedure at this period of the Session. Until the Prime Minister delivered his speech he had cherished the hope that the Government would, at the last moment, have rested content with the great results they had already achieved in regard to Procedure, and that hon. Members would be allowed to go to their homes after so large a slice had been taken out of the too brief Autumn Holidays of Members of Parliament. The Prime Minister appeared to be under the influence of one controlling idea—namely, that there was an enormous mass of work before the House, that was almost immeasurable in its proportions, and that must be got through. For his own part, he had never been able to detect, either in the constituencies or in the House itself, where all these Alpine ranges of legislative work were to come from. The Prime Minister did not enter into any details. He knew that some years ago the right hon. Gentleman contributed to The Nineteenth Century an article, in which he enumerated 29 principal measures which he said Parliament ought to legislate upon; but the existing Procedure of the House would amply suffice to pass even those 29 important measures. He believed that the ex-Chancellor of the Duchy of I Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) would, if he were to speak his real mind on this question, sweep away with utter scorn this brand new method of Procedure, for he must remember the enormous reforms which had been carried under the present system, in the teeth of the most violent opposition. In proposing this scheme, the Prime Minister had neglected the great laws of supply and demand, as he had also done in the Irish Land Act. If the country really demanded legislation, the present Procedure of the House would be amply sufficient to dispose of all grievances; but, in fact, no grievances of any importance existed in the country, and, consequently, there was apathy and disregard and carelessness in regard to legislation. This entirely disposed of the right hon. Gentleman's argument in regard to the enormous mass of work that lay before Parliament. Then the Prime Minister said he was anxious, by means of these Grand Committees, to avoid the intolerable overworking of Members. But this scheme of Grand Committees was a most extraordinary plan for lightening their labours. Suppose the system of Grand Committees had been in operation when the Land Law of Ireland was under discussion. A Grand Committee of 80 Members might have been considering the Bankruptcy Bill, the Corrupt Practices Bill, or the Ballot Act; they would have been engaged on those measures probably from 12 till 4. Then the other Grand Committee of 80 Members might have been considering some of the 20 Bills mentioned by the President of the Board of Trade. Thus 160 Members would have been engaged from 12 to 4 three times a-week perhaps, and would have been utterly unable to take part in the discussion of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill, although that was one of the most important measures that ever divided political Parties in the House of Commons. Yet this was the system that the Prime Minister said was to lighten the labours of hon. Members. Those 160 Members would scarcely be able to take even the ridiculous part of walking through the Division Lobbies. If the Grand Committees were carried and the Govern- ment introduced a Bill dealing with the county franchise and the redistribution of seats, which would interest the whole House, and would be more hotly contested than any measure since the Reform Bill, how would it be possible for the Members sitting on the Grand Committees dealing with law and commerce also to devote themselves to the discussion of the franchise question? To take small Committees of 15 was a very different thing to taking one-third of the House. It stood to reason that instead of relieving Members from over work it was reducing them to slavery. The Prime Minister had supported this proposal on the ground that it would release Members from a great deal of physical labour. The right hon. Gentleman indulged in metaphor, and said that it was a great attempt on the part of the Government to give the House of Commons more mouths, more arms, and more hands; but, considering the running about from one place to another that hon. Members would have to do if this system were adopted, he might just as well have said, "More legs." It was a most unfortunate metaphor to make use of "more mouths, more arms, more hands, more legs," just as if the Prime Minister wanted to transform the House of Commons from a National Constitutional Assembly into some formidable and horrid monster. He could imagine the House with its capacious maw wide open and the Caucus shovelling in a great mass of Bills, and the House endeavouring to discuss this mass of work, with the result of producing a noxious, horrid result of legislative indigestion. The Prime Minister based this proposal on the specialities of localities and the growth of population; but had not specialities of localities existed ever since the Heptarchy? Divesting the Prime Minister's speech of hyperbole, it came to this—that they must have Grand Committees, because the British Islands were composed of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and that the four countries differed from one another. Up to the present time, however, the House of Commons had legislated for all four divisions of the British Islands, and there was no reason to doubt had done so satisfactorily. In introducing the Irish Church Act, the right hon. Gentleman said that there was a great crisis, and he was taunted with not having discovered it before. Up to the present time he had never discovered that the specialities of localities constituted such a difference between England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales as to require this enormous change. The Prime Minister had also said that he was anxious to make things as easy as possible for the Opposition, and that he had carefully eliminated all Party questions from those to be referred to the Grand Committees. But to say that law was a subject in which Party questions would not arise was, he thought, to make one of the boldest assertions ever made even by the Prime Minister. Questions of law raised more violent Party disputes than any subject which could be named. What could give rise to more bitter Party disputes than the law affecting land? Did the Prime Minister propose to submit the law relating to land to the Grand Committee? [Mr. GLADSTONE: No.] Did he intend to submit the Law of Primogeniture? [Mr. GLADSTONE: No.] Did he intend to refer the Corrupt Practices Bill? [Mr. GLADSTONE: No.] Then he did not know what he intended to refer, except the Bankruptcy Bill, or, perhaps, the Marriage Laws, or the Law of Divorce, in reference to which the Prime Minister knew something about the powers of Obstruction. But the great word "law" covered a very vast field. He ventured to differ also from the Prime Minister in the opinion that disputes with regard to trade and commercial questions were settled. They had been allowed to sleep for a quarter of a century; but there were indications that they were reviving. And he apprehended that matters affecting these questions would be found ere long to possess a very considerable Party interest. The Prime Minister had said a good deal about time and place of meeting, and also about Procedure; but he had not said a word about the most vital point—namely, the election of these grand old Committees. [Laughter.] He begged pardon; the election of the Grand Committees which it was proposed to form under the New Rules. Not one word did he say about the proposal to refer the selection to the Standing Committee on Selection. What was the Committee of Selection? It consisted of Sir John Mowbray, Mr. Cubitt, Mr. Orr-Ewing, Mr. Whitbread, Sir Charles Forster, and Mr. Mitchell Henry. Those Gentlemen were the nominees of the Whips of either Party, with the exception of the Whip of the Irish Party. Did the Prime Minister suppose that the independent Members of the House of Commons would acquiesce in the proposal to place the selection of these Grand Committees in the hands of those Gentlemen? It was a most preposterous proposition. Would the Members following the lead of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) acquiesce in the selections of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry), or those following the standard of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) the selections of the hon. Baronet the Member for Walsall (Sir Charles Forster)? The Prime Minister appeared to see with prophetic eye a perfect cataract of legislation, almost equal in volume to the Falls of Niagara, which was to be poured down upon this country through the operation of that scheme; but if the right hon. Gentleman had seen, as he had, the mass of ruin, wreckage, and destruction, as well as the mist and gloom of those Palls, he might take a different view of the matter. It was greatly to be feared that the effect of that tremendous flood-tide of Caucus legislation would be to sweep away much that was good, valued, and well-tried in our Constitution, and to bring anything but blessing and prosperity to the nation.
said, that the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite were always conceived on the same lines, and always went back to the old story that the country did not desire legislation, and that these Rules would make legislation possible. The noble Lord said he was perfectly convinced that the country required no legislation. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: I did not say anything of the kind.] The noble Lord, as he understood, stated that there was no desire for a great mass of legislation. Now, at the last General Election, the Prime Minister showed that the Liberal Party intended to pass a great mass of measures, and the decision of the constituencies was in favour of that legislation. Certainly the people did not scream, or break windows, or destroy Palaces like Blenheim, in order to obtain legislation, because they knew that, without resorting to extreme measures, they would get what they wanted by means of the ballot-box. The noble Lord complained of want of detail in the Resolution, and compared it to a landscape of Turner's; but he (Mr. Labouchere) was always under the impression that the beauty of Turner's landscapes lay in their details. The noble Lord said if those Grand Committees were established Members of the House would have to work night and day; but under the present system a great many Members sat in Committee from 12 to 4, and after 4 they occupied themselves in the House with the Business of the country. He believed that the appointment of those Committees would not materially add to the work thrown on hon. Members. The noble Lord thought it strange that the proposal had not been made before; but it was only within the last few years that the system of Obstruction had been organized on the other side of the House. ["Oh!"] He did not blame hon. Gentlemen opposite; they would not be Conservatives if they were not obstructing. Never until within the last few years had they so thoroughly organized Obstruction; they had seen the success of it, and were encouraged to persevere. It was asked what Bills not involving Party questions would be referred to those Committees. He might mention the Bankruptcy Bill, and also such measures as the Loadline Bill promoted by Mr. Plimsoll, which could hardly be regarded as Party matters. The noble Lord had objected to the Committee of Selection, and was not satisfied with the right hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John Mowbray), because he frequently opposed the action of the Conservative Party. Why, the noble Lord himself was almost invariably in opposition to the Leaders of the Conservative Party. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: When?] It would obstruct the Business of the House if he were to specify all the times when the noble Lord took that course. The noble Lord asked whether Gentlemen on the Ministerial side would accept the decisions of the hon. Members for Bedford and Walsall. Now, although the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir Charles Forster) was not so Radical as he was himself, he was, nevertheless, a fair representative Radical in the House. They would have Representatives of all sections of opinion on those Committees. Moreover, it should be remembered that this proposal was entirely a tentative one; and after they had tried it for a Session or so they would be able to judge whether I it answered or not. He, therefore, I thought it would be only reasonable to accept the suggestion of the Prime Minister
MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, he thought it no answer to the objection taken to that Resolution that it was an experiment. They had had experiments enough this Session. He did not approve of trying experiments upon the House; he would much sooner have heard some argument derived from experience. And they had had some experience of Committees, and knew something of their advantages and of their defects. If they considered the results of the system they would at once see that increasing the number of Members serving on Committees merely meant decreasing the number available for the work of the House. Under the proposed arrangement the House would present, in future, the same appearance generally as it now did during the dinner hour. Perhaps the Government desired a House of Commons in a state of coma. The simplest calculation would show how inadequate the present Members were to sustain the duties already placed upon them. There were 30 Select Committees last Session giving employment to some 380 Members, and there were as many Private Bill Committees employing 150 more. The House had not got within it a sufficient number of Gentlemen for the purpose required; and, so far from there being any lack of opportunities for hon. Members to employ their talents, the opposite was the fact. The Grand Committees would require 1 60 Members, in addition to the 430 already employed on Committee work. He must repudiate the idea that there were experts in the House; and he contended that the opinion of any Member who might be regarded in the House as an expert had no weight at all with the real experts out of the House. Large Committees were cumbrous. Even under the present system of selection, where some attempt was made to procure a show of fairness, it was always known beforehand how the Committee would report as soon as it was nominated. The decision depended not upon discussion or evidence, but upon nomination; but the Prime Minister proposed Committees of 60 or 80 Members with a Party majority proportionate to the strength of the Government. The result would be a foregone conclusion. He was very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving what he considered an opportunity to the younger Members; but, so far from this proposal duplicating the mouth and hands of Parliament, it would, he feared, simply end in duplicating the mouth and hands of the Prime Minister, and of no one else. The right hon. Gentleman would be like a captain on his ship shouting through his trumpet half-a-dozen orders at once. Those Grand Committees would sit in private, or in, at least, some secrecy. To that principle he strongly objected. The two Front Benches would be represented by nominees, who would not be free agents. The idlers of the House would be appointed, because the busy men would be too full of work to attend. The briefless barrister would be there, to represent the knowledge of law which he had not; the men having private interests to serve, the interests of companies, would be there, while impartial men would be conspicuous for absence. The whole system would prove a humbug and imposition.
MR. W. FOWLER
said, there were several difficulties raised by this proposal about which he wished to say a few words. The Prime Minister had said that the Settled Estates Act was not a legal measure, and would not have come before a Grand Committee. If it was not a question of law, what was it? The same thing might be said of primogeniture. Obviously, what was wanted was a clear definition of the subjects which were to come within the sphere of the Grand Committees. There was another difficulty connected with the Committee of Selection. No doubt, experts ought to be appointed. On some question, such as railways and shipping, there were some Members who would have almost a right to be appointed. But it would be a great mistake to appoint the experts exclusively, or almost exclusively, without the presence of men of general intelligence and independent minds. Then there would be a great danger in leaving the discussion till the Report. The House was always impatient of much discussion on the Report of a Bill, and a Member could only speak once with the Speaker in the Chair, and would have no opportunity of replying to objections. There was another point alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), which had made a great impression on his mind, and that was the difficulty that would be found in finding a sufficient number of men able and willing to sit on these Committees, as well as upon the Select Committees on great public and social questions, and also on the Committees for the consideration of Private Bills. If they had 160, or, as some proposed, 240 Members sitting on the Grand. Committees, where would they find a sufficient number of Members to do the work of these other Committees? He had himself sat on two Select Committees on Bills, and also on a Commitmittee on an important social question, which lasted during two Sessions, and he had found it extremely difficult to attend to both Committees. That difficulty would be increased under the proposed arrangement. But there could be no doubt that more delegation was absolutely required. He remembered on the Judicature Bill in 1873, when Members sat hour after hour in Committee of the Whole House, and divisions were taken, and Members came into the Lobby and asked what it was all about, and into which Lobby they were to go, without having heard a word of the discussion. That was a most unsatisfactory state of things. The result of the present system was that Bills left that House in such a state that they were the laughing-stock of the Judges who had to interpret them. The proposition as to Select Committees was far more satisfactory than any other he had heard. He believed that the work would be better done by a Select Committee of 20 than by a Standing Committee of 80 Members. He did not agree with the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) that legislation was not required by the country. What the country demanded was that work should be done, and that the work they did should be done well. He would suggest to the Government that something might be done in the development of the system of Select Committees rather than in the direction of the proposal then before them.
said, he thought it was a curious fact that the only Bills dealt with by this vague and slipshod Rule were those which would be under the charge of the right hon. Gentlemen the Home Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade. He thought, however, the Government could scarcely ask the House to make an exception in their favour. As regarded the proceedings of the Committee being conducted in secret, he believed that would be a most perilous innovation. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had referred to local qualifications for those Committees. But he would point out that there was nothing whatever of a local nature in the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. He considered that there ought to be some distinct understanding as to what measures would not come within the scope of the Rule before it was agreed to by the House. Shipping legislation in times past had involved the gravest quarrels. What vast questions lay behind the Navigation Acts. It was a good thing for sailors that Mr. Plimsoll's measures did not go to a Grand Committee of experts. As to commercial legislation, how had Whig Governments dealt with the manufactures of Ireland? All the subjects proposed to be referred to the Grand Committees bristled with dangers. Nothing could better serve the purposes of an Obstructive Opposition than secret legislation by such Committees. The majesty of the French Legislature was lost in its bureaux, which frittered away the usefulness of its discussions, and thereby provoked discontent among the people. They were asked to pass the Rule for a Session to see how it worked; but that would be no test whatever. Who could tell whether the work of next Session would be a test of the New Rule. It by no means followed that if the Rule were applied to Bills of an important character, such as those numerous Bills to which he had referred, the evils of that Rule would become apparent. It was quite possible that the Government would so use the Rule as that its deficiencies would not become apparent. It might be that the President of the Board of Trade would postpone those revolutionary measures with which he delighted his constituents and alarmed everyone else. If the Rule worked beneficially at all, it could only do so in the case of Private Bills; and Private Bills could be much better dealt with by a fair and business-like system of Select Committees than by this extraordinary proposal of Grand Committees, about which the only thing they could say with certainty was that there was nothing certain about it. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt) had called atten- tion to a most important matter with regard to the working of this Rule. Bills of magnitude were to be taken from 12 o'clock to 4. How was the necessary machinery to be provided? The two Standing Committees were either to comprise, or they were not to comprise, the best men in the House. If they were not to comprise the best men in the House, he did not see the particular advantage of the House delegating all its power to second-rates. If they were to comprise the best men, was the general Business of the House to be starved through the absence of those Members of the House best qualified for Public Business? There was no way out of this dilemma. It was not to be supposed that Members who had been giving their close attention to arduous Business from 12 o'clock to 4 could devote the same attention to Business from 4 till 12. It was not everyone who had the same power of application to business as the Premier. The right hon. Gentleman was measuring mankind by his own standard. If he would kindly take a lower estimate of the capacity of Members of the House, he felt sure he would not make such enormous demands on the capacity of the House. Then, again, the hours of 12 to 4 were the principal business hours of the world; so that all the great merchants must be excluded from these Grand Committees, for they would be engaged in their counting-houses considering questions of almost national magnitude. Moreover, the great lawyers would be excluded from these Grand Committees, especially as they would soon be removed from the immediate vicinity of the House. These Grand Committees would ultimately fall into the hands of two classes of Members, consisting first of those who were interested in the subject-matter of the Bills with which the Grand Committees had to do. Those Members would do all in their power to get on those Committees, and they could not be blamed for doing so, because they would have been deprived of their right to discuss Bills in Committee of the Whole House. They must try either to get on the Committee themselves, or to place on them Members who were their second selves, and who would be sure to further their views. The result would be, in short, to introduce the system of American "lobbying." Then, the other class of Members who would get on the Grand Committees would consist of more Ministerialists, who would give their vote according to the bidding of the Government of the day. ["Divide, divide!"] They were the Members who cried "Divide, divide!" already, and who would cry "Time, time!" when Liberalism had worn off its first blush and gagging had become the regular practice. Then Committees would become the refuge of Members in the same manner as the Grand Juries in country towns became the regular hunting grounds of the guinea-pig. He entirely denied that there was any provision for local wants in the scheme of the Government. On the contrary, it was fraught with all the evils of the Old World and the New, and would only intensify the worst evils of the Imperial system. Now they had free and open discussion in that House; but under the new scheme they would not be able even to choose the men who should represent them. He looked upon the scheme of the Government as one which would disfranchise two-thirds of the House, and would combine the worst evils of the French legislative bureau with the corruptions of American "lobbying" and "logrotting;" and, that being the case, it seemed to him a waste of time to discuss it.
MR. W. E. FORSTER
Sir, I hope the House will allow me to say one word. I am very anxious that the House should not separate in this Autumn Session without resolving to try the experiment of these Grand Committees. My motive for wishing that is simply this. We have got a very great deal of work to do, and it is time that we tried whether we could not get it done quicker and better upon the principle of a division of labour. That appears to me to be the argument in favour of this proposal. I do not deny that there may be dangers in the scheme; but if there are dangers, they would be quickly found out on a trial of the experiment. At all events, I think it is abundantly worth while that we should try the experiment. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) that the Grand Committees would be packed. If I felt that the Government proposed to do anything of the kind, I would not for a moment support these Resolutions. But as it is proposed to arrange the constitution of the Grand Committees, I believe that they would be fairly representative of the House. And that is what I imagine we should aim at. The particular subjects which are proposed to be brought before the Grand Committees seem to me very good subjects for making the trial. It may be a matter for future debate whether the scheme has been successful; but at this moment we are only asked whether we will try it or not. Hon. Members have said that all these powers are an innovation upon the practice of the House; but I must say that when they charged my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister with bringing forward all his revolutionary projects under the guise of their being trade proposals to be submitted to the Standing Committees I think they were very wide of the mark. Why are we all kept here notwithstanding our longing to be away? We all know that the country is dissatisfied, and very rightly dissatisfied, with our getting through our work so slowly, and, on the whole, not getting through it well. They are determined that we should in some way recast our machinery of legislation. That is undoubtedly the reason why we are here. The country do not take much interest in the details, but they expect us to get through our work. They say—"Give us the measures we ought to have, and do not let us wait indefinitely for them." We have now been several weeks going through the Resolutions, which are intended to meet Obstruction and unnecessary delay. I hope they will be successful; but I do not believe that they alone would enable us to get through our work. We ought to see if we cannot provide machinery by which we can do more work. Hon. Members have said, Why not re-cast the Select Committees? Sometimes a Select Committee succeeds in drafting a Bill which prevents discussion in the House; but it must also be remembered that many of the Bills which are sometimes considered in Select Committees are often discussed in the House, and I do not see very well how an extension of Select Committees can give us the division of labour we require, unless the proposal for re-casting the Select Committees be very much of the same kind as the proposal we have now before us. The real matter we have to consider is this. Is it necessary that the whole House should be engaged in deliberating upon the details of the Bills that come before the House? We know that, generally speaking, except in regard to a few of the most important Bills, nothing approaching the whole strength of the House is engaged. Then, why can we not have, side by side, a Committee going through those details? By that means I conceive that we might get a great deal more work done, and that is the sole ground for the proposal. It appears to me to be a very reasonable proposal which may be very fairly tried. Depend upon it, there would be plenty of opponents of it; and if there were faults in the plan, the first Session would, in all probability, enable them to be found out. I do not think that any mere coercion—if I may use the word—to prevent some hon. Members from speaking overmuch, or speaking obstructively, will by itself, and of itself, enable us to do our work. We must consider how we, as sensible men, meeting together in considerable numbers, can array our forces so as to enable us to get through the work we are appointed to do. It should be our endeavour to make the Grand Committee a fair Committee. If it is not a fair Committee it ought never to be appointed. I apprehend the Government will be open to accept Amendments if it can be shown that there is any necessity; and if there is anything like unfairness, I have not the slightest doubt that it will be remedied afterwards. But I should be very sorry if, after all the time we have spent, we were to separate by discarding the only plan which has been brought before us for economizing our time, and resting content simply with Rules which, although I have strongly supported them, and which I believe to be necessary, will not of themselves finish the work, but will merely prevent Obstruction and too much talk. The whole question lies in a nutshell. The House and the country are convinced of the evil of our being unable to get through our work by the immense complexities of all the interests involved; and they are so impressed with the difficulty of getting through it, that they think we should do well to try this plan of a division of labour and of economizing the work. Those hon. Members who do not think so will vote against the proposal. On the other hand, I feel the evil so strongly, and the danger of our dissatisfying the country and the Parliamentary Institutions of the country by that dissatisfaction, that I am most anxious to see the experiment tried.
Sir, if any justification were wanted for the Amendment of my right hon. Friend, I think it would be found in the whole tone and course of the present debate It has now been going on for six hours, and since the Prime Minister made his speech in support of the very remarkable Resolution before us, not a single Member on the Treasury Bench has risen, although two Members sitting near me have spoken, and although several important speeches have been delivered on this side of the House, notably one by my noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), who put a series of most searching questions to Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, the only support accorded to the Government has been the speech of their trusty Friend the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), and that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), who has just spoken. There have been during the progress of the discussion, no doubt, many Members sitting opposite who, from their character and attainments, and the length of time they have occupied a seat in this House, are entitled to speak with great authority; but up to this moment we have not been favoured with any intimation of what their opinion is. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has not applied himself to solve any of the almost obvious problems which arise on the surface of the Resolution. He has not applied himself to answer any one of the questions put to the Government from this side of the House; and the only burden of his speech was—"Try the experiment, although I admit that there are dangers in it." The House can hardly too strongly bear in mind the immensity and the gravity of the change now presented to us by the Prime Minister, nor should we lose sight of the fatigue of the whole House—that all of us are weary of being taken from our homes and kept from them at this time of the year. The Prime Minister himself did not seek to minimize the immense importance of his proposal. Anyone who studies for himself the tone and structure of the Resolutions will see that nothing short of revolutionizing the Business of the House of Commons is sought to be accom- plished. It certainly was not a little startling to find the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) quietly putting aside as a mere nothing the deliberations we have been engaged in during the last five weeks, because, in his opinion, the 12 Resolutions which we have to-day made Standing Orders is a matter which will not help, to any appreciable extent, the business of legislation. We are not, I think, at liberty to forget the gravity and the momentous importance of these Resolutions, by being told that they are experimental. That word has been used more than once by the Prime Minister; it has also been used more than once by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster). But experiments are sometimes very grave things, and doubly grave when applied to very serious matters. Neither should we lose sight of the importance of these Resolutions. In a catchword used by the Prime Minister three times in the course of his eloquent speech in moving the Resolutions, we were told that they are "liberal" Resolutions. If you christen a thing well and give it a good name, the chance is that people will be carried away by the name and forget the substance; but we are not disposed, on this side of the House, to accept the word on trust. We see nothing of liberality in the Resolutions, and very little that is liberating. The fruits likely to result from adopting the Resolutions are said to be very remarkable; but those fruits are contradicted by the expectations the Prime Minister gave as to the result. They rest upon two grounds. First, that the arrears of legislation would be dealt with adequately—that the work of the country would be done, or, to use the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), that the country would cease to be dissatisfied. Now, I am of opinion that a great many queer things are said about the wishes of the country. My own opinion is that the country does not care one farthing about a lot of these Bills that are said to be so necessary for them. I am aware that the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) has strung a list of Bills together, which he assumes the country is anxious about; and occasionally the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) says something to the same effect; but, as far as I am concerned—and I have attended several election contests—I have not seen a single symptom of dissatisfaction on the subject. This is the principal point. Those who are doing the work of the country are anxious to get rid of the arrears of legislation; but what is the practice to which that principle is to be applied? In the same breath the Prime Minister says—"These Grand Committees are not to be understood to apply themselves to Party legislation." Then, that completely answers the claim to these Grand Committees. [Mr. GLANDSTONE dissented.] I see that the Prime Minister shakes his head; but he distinctly stated that as one of the grounds for disarming suspicion—namely, that Party measures; were not to be submitted to these Grand Committees. If they are not to be measures of a Party character, they would not be measures likely to be keenly or hotly contested in this House; and if they were investigated before a Select Committee the chance is that, like other important measures, they would be accepted readily by the House, and would not be further discussed. Then, I think if Party measures—measures on which the great Parties of the State are vitally separated, and which are regarded from opposite and hostile points of view by the different Parties of the State—if such measures are not to be sent to the Grand Committees, you are not sending the Bills in regard to which there is contention—that is to say, the Bills which would occupy time; but you are proposing to send the non-Party Bills—Bills which would occupy the least discussion, and would require the least attention at the hands of the House. Is that a justification for working out a complete revolution of the whole Procedure of the House? Does it not look very like the thin end of the wedge—the beginning of an experiment which can be described as innocent? And then, when we have these Grand Committees on their legs, the Government will come down and say—"They work so admirably and so well, that there is no reason why great Party measures should not be freely sent to them." That was the important reason given for these Grand Committees by the Prime Minister. Then there was a second reason, which, as far as I can find out, was this—that the younger Members of Parliament would not be shut out as they are at present. Of course, the phrase "new to Parliamentary life" is a very elastic one. A man of 70, if he entered the House yesterday, would be called a lad in Parliamentary life, although he would not be so in physical life. But I suppose the Prime Minister intended that young and inexperienced Members should have a chance of coming out; and, therefore, he paid a compliment to his own Party when he said that there was never in the House greater intellectual capacity or moral readiness. Now, I have heard of intellectual capacity before; but "moral readiness" has a touch of novelty about it which I was pleased to hear. Then the right hon. Gentleman stated that there are a large number of Members well qualified to speak. That appears to have become a shibboleth on the Treasury Bench. The First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) went all the way to Reading to announce that if they could only get a reform of the Procedure of the House eloquent and thoughtful Radicals would then have a chance. But if there is one thing perfectly plain, it is that the Rules already submitted by the House and these Resolutions combined, the joint operation of the two, could not in the slightest degree affect the quality of the speeches, but only the quantity; and young and old Members must in the future, as in the past, run their chance all the same. I do not for the life of me understand what is meant by the reference to younger Members, unless it is suggested that these little toy Parliaments are to be the nurseries in which these young Members are to be educated, and to learn how to speak and how to conduct themselves. There is another reason given for the startling change which the Government propose to make, and which was dealt with very fully by my noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), and that is the relief which the appointment of Grand Committees would give to the House from physical labour. Now, whenever the Prime Minister comes to a matter which ordinary people are not likely to see, and in regard to which nine persons out of ten would adopt a contrary view if let alone, he at once approaches and announces a discovery the other way; and, accordingly, the Prime Minister puts in the forefront, as the reason for effecting this change, the state of our physical labour. I have no desire to repeat now the pointed inquiries upon that subject which were made by my noble Friend (Lord Randolph Churchill); but if the adoption of these Resolutions will not materially increase the physical labour of these Grand Committees, I am at a loss to understand what is the meaning of physical labour. If a man after working on a Grand Committee all day were to go home and dine and go to bed, I could understand that he would get some actual relief from physical labour; but if a man is to perform his duties on a Grand Committee and toil for four or five hours and then come hero and toil for eight, nine, or ten hours more, that will nearly double his physical labour; and I hope that whoever is going to speak next on the Treasury Bench will try to improve the proposition which the Prime Minister, with that grace of manner and that charm of eloquence he always possesses, has stated as an admitted fact. The right hon. Gentleman was asked by an hon. Member at one time if it was intended by the Government to take the Resolutions which stand upon the Paper in the names of private Members, and whether they would be dealt with this Session. The right hon. Gentleman gave an answer which threw a flood of light upon the matter as to the way in which the Amendment of my right hon. Friend is to be dealt with. It is urged that these Resolutions are presumably entitled to much consideration; that they all deal with most important topics, many of them standing in the name of most experienced Members, and yet the Prime Minister asks—"Is there any prospect now of their being satisfactorily considered?" The Prime Minister having to-day given that as a reason why it is not desirable to go beyond the Government Resolutions, asks the House now, thinned in numbers, impatient in the audience they are giving us obviously all through this debate, and not having of themselves the heart or the desire to take part in this discussion, to pass these important Resolutions. Is it considered by the Government that it is reasonable to expect from the House a satisfactory consideration of their Resolutions this week, when that consideration cannot be expected next week for similar Resolu- tions proposed by other Members of the House? Anyone who has glanced round the House in the course of the discussion will have seen that this immense change is being discussed in a House of far less than one-tenth of its strength, and never exceeding one-sixth part of it. That is a matter which is entitled to grave consideration, and which I hope the country will notice. Most unquestionably the country will be reminded of it in the Recess, and will be told that we are being compelled to consider this, which, as the Prime Minister says, is the most important part of his whole scheme for the change of Procedure, at a time when the House is practically not in Session, when the vast bulk of its Members are away, and when many of those who remain on the Government side of the House are unwilling to speak, and are somewhat impatient to listen to other people who desire to speak. It is not to be lost sight of that 12 Resolutions have been passed, and to-day made into Standing Orders, dealing with most important matters. Those important matters have been put under four heads; but I will divide them into three only—Obstruction, direct and indirect, excessive talk, and Motions on going into Committee of Supply. The result asserted by the Government for their code of laws is that they have embodied in the 12 Resolutions the restoration of the disciplinary power of the House. I am entitled to assume that it must be the Government case that in these 12 Resolutions they have adequately, completely, and effectually dealt with all those matters to which the Prime Minister referred, and that thereby they have restored the disciplinary power and action of the House. Then, have I not a right to ask the House, and has Parliament not a right to expect, and the country to demand, that some little experiment should be tried of the operation of these 12 Resolutions before you supplement them by introducing another Resolution, more drastic and more revolutionary than any ever tried in this Parliament before? I would ask this question; I do not think the Prime Minister has answered it. What is the advantage to be gained by this change? What is the advantage to the credit and the honour of Parliament? What is the advantage to the efficiency of Business—what, in point of fact, is the advantage to be gained to the comfort of Members? Do not imagine that our criticisms are factious. We have a clear proposition to make. You can try the 12 Resolutions you have deliberately passed. You assert that they will be sufficient to cope with Obstruction in its various forms, with the evil effects of excessive talk, and also with the evils resulting from too many Motions upon going into Committee of Supply. Our proposition is to try the experiment and see how these 12 Resolutions will work, supplemented by a more free use of Select Committees; and then, having tried the experiment, if you find that it fails, you can then come to Parliament, if you please, and ask for power to supplement it by giving you these New Resolutions. Do not be too sure that even if you get this new measure you will not find something that will not enable you to achieve all the objects you have in view, and that may not produce greater delay than you have heretofore experienced. You, by your action as regarded previous Resolutions, have repudiated the co-operation of the Opposition; and what have you gained? By compelling the transfer to these Committees, which you call Grand Committees, of certain Bills you will find it necessary to leave the Report stage free. You have closed it under certain conditions in regard to the ordinary Committees; but you will have to leave it open for the consideration of Bills which have only passed through these Grand Committees. Then, do you not think that when a Bill comes back to this House of Parliament the House will not invite a thorough, complete, and full investigation of such Bill to the full extent of its rights, and that it will not criticize what you have sought to get criticized quietly, and, it may be, in a hole-and-corner way upstairs? I should like to hear an answer to this, if there is anyone to take part in this discussion from the Treasury Bench. I presume that there is, if taking notes affords any clue. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) was an hour, looking his very best all the time, taking notes with great apparent intelligence and with well assumed interest; but I remarked that when it became reasonably proper for the right hon. Gentleman to take part in the debate he received some intimation, or without any intimation he left the House. I do not know whether he is within audience at present; but I should be very glad, if he is not going to speak, if he would, at any rate, lend his notes to some other Member of the House; and then, between the notes taken by the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) and the notes taken by the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson), possibly some Member of the Government might hash up some kind of a speech. Now, I should like to have some information on two or three points which I think the House is entitled to information upon, before we decide upon the Amendment of my right hon. Friend, or, at any rate, before the Resolutions are disposed of. It is a matter, I think, of very great importance to know whether there is to be an order made in each case that a Bill is to be sent to a Grand Committee. I should like to know that, because the Prime Minister was exquisitely vague in his speech. Is it intended that the Bills are to go direct and straight to the heaven of these Grand Committees without any intervention whatever from the House? There does not seem to be any intimation from the Treasury Bench on the subject. If the Prime Minister were here, he would, no doubt, shake his head either way; but as the House is now situated we are left entirely in the dark upon the subject, and have simply to speculate upon it. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has come into the House. I was about to put the first of three queries which I have to address to the Government. The rest of my speech the right hon. Gentleman must obtain from the usual channels of information. The first question is this. Is it intended that all Bills contemplated in the Resolution are ipso facto to go up to the Grand Committee without any order whatever from the House? Now, that is a perfectly reasonable question. I ask, what is the meaning of saying, as it does in the Resolution, "unless the House shall otherwise order?" Does that mean that the House, in regard to each Bill, is to be given an opportunity of saying "Aye" or "No;" or does it mean the same thing as a notice in regard to a Judicature Act, or certain other Acts of Parliament, that 40 days would be given for a dissent to be handed in, and that then the Act would become law? We all know the way in which that works. There is no opportunity given to the House for expressing its dissent, and at the end of 40 days the Act becomes law whether we like it or not. Is it intended that all Bills are to go up, and that any Member who wishes to object will have to ballot for a chance of dissenting; or is it intended that each Bill is to have a direct order from the House, so that any Member will have the right to object before the Committee enters upon its labours? That is a plain and a precise question, and a most material question too. Under this order, by a kind of mechanical operation, if a Bill in the category included in the Resolution is introduced in this House, and passes a second reading, and finds its way upstairs, if the Grand Committee once begins to sit upon it, there is no power in your Rules ever to get it down again except upon the Report stage. These are obviously difficult matters, in regard to which the House is entitled to information; and if you are not able to give that information it shows that you have not considered the most obvious points of your scheme, and that the Motion of my right hon. Friend is entitled to be carried, in order to enable you to make up your minds upon it. Another point of difficulty is this—what is meant by the "composition of the House?" I have read that phrase with all the intelligence I could bring to bear upon the matter, and I do not quite realize what is in the mind of the Government. I always like, whenever I can, humbly to put myself on the standpoint of the Government, and, in as small a way as I can, to realize their intellectual standpoint; but I frankly admit that I am wholly at a loss to understand what is meant by having regard to the composition of the House, in co-relation to the other Resolutions. In point of fact, the Prime Minister says—"Take our scheme; it will do no harm, because we do not intend to deal with Party Bills or Party measures." That is borne out further by the Committee of Selection being the tribunal to select the Committee. But if the Bills are not to be Party Bills, and if the tribunal is not to be a Party tribunal, but, as far as possible, is to be neutral, then, in the name of common sense, why are we to have regard to the composition of the House, or, in other words, the Party ingredients of the House? That is a plain and simple point, and a point we are entitled to have information upon before we go further. The "composition of the House" must be the Party composition of the House. You have said that you do not want to send Party Bills to these Grand Committees, and that the new tribunal is to be selected by the Committee of Selection. I would, therefore, ask what do you mean by saying that a Party tribunal is to be selected to decide upon Bills which you proclaim are not to be Party Bills? There is only one other difficulty to which I desire to call attention. I do not like more than three at a time. Some of my hon. Friends, who will speak after mo, will, no doubt, add to the category; and, if any of the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway choose to speak, they can, if they like, increase the list to any extent. The point upon which I desire information is one which it is necessary I should put, because, unlike America, we have no Supreme Court to decide the matter. What I want to know is this—when you have got every mechanical arrangement in operation by which certain Bills are to come before the Grand Committee, who is to decide which Bills are to go before the Committee in a particular category? Your category is elastic and indefinite, and it might grasp Bills which every single Member sitting on the Treasury Bench would repudiate as coming within the category. Then, who is to decide in the case of doubtful Bills? Take the question of law. Take a Bill to regulate the jury system of this country—a matter of most vital consequence, and involving an immense difference of opinion, especially in Ireland. Is that to be a law Bill? It is a Bill regulating legal procedure—a Bill dealing with the conduct of and the procedure connected with trials. Would such a measure come within the meaning of "law," and is it to go upstairs, or is it to be kept here? If it is to go upstairs, is it to go there without the House having an opportunity of debating it? Who is to decide what the term "law" is to include? The term "trade" is one of the widest, most comprehensive, most elastic, and most indefinite terms the English language can supply. You have put it in your 1st Resolution; but you do not define it, and you do not give us any tribunal which is to define it. Would the Crimes Bill of this Session, which created a new tribunal, have been a law Bill? I should be glad to know what the opinion of the Government is in reference to that. Then let me take the word "trade," and let me remind you that you do not define these terms. May be you could not; but you say that you have selected simple terms which speak for themselves. Now, let me take these simple terms, and I contend that they may become very complex and complicated terms. Let me take the term "trade." What is to become of the Liquor Laws? Do not they all involve trade, and mere trade? There is nothing in the Liquor Laws but trade. Then, are the Liquor Laws grasped in the term trade, and are they to go upstairs? At all events, we are not receiving any assistance in debating these points from the Government, either by a simple "Yes" or "No." When the Prime Minister was here he said "Yes" and "No" quite fairly, turn and turn about. I take it that the Liquor Laws may be sent to the Grand Committees under the head of "trade." Then, again, what is to become of the Licensing Laws? Are they they to go upstairs under the word "law," and the Liquor Laws to go upstairs under the term "trade?" I have a suspicion that this grand new weapon—I will withdraw that expression, because the Prime Minister says it is not a "weapon," but that it is "a liberating measure"—I half think in my own mind that this liberating measure will puzzle the Government a great deal. Yet, if they get it, I think my right hon. Friend who has moved the Amendment on this occasion is in the novel position of being the best friend the Government have in this House. I myself object to go on with these Resolutions, because I think a pressing necessity has not been shown, because I think it is wise and common sense to try the weapons you have so recently obtained. Supplement them, if you please, by a more copious and liberal use of Select Committees, and if that fails, then you may look further. But, at all events, I say that it is now too late in the Session to consider a matter of such immense importance. I maintain that the constitution of the House is not such as to represent the calm and deliberate judgment of Parliament on one of the most important propositions ever submitted to it; and, therefore, I hope the Government will consider favourably, and with a disposition to meet it as fully as they can, the Amendment which has been moved by my right hon. Friend.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, in one part of his speech, has been good enough to supply an answer to another part. He said—"You have obtained your 12 disciplinary Rules. They are strong Rules, and you ought to be satisfied with them." I am only giving the effect of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said.
I certainly did not recognize the language.
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not dispute that that is the effect of what he said—"You have got 12 disciplinary Rules. You ought to stop there and be content with trying them before you go on and ask the House to adopt these further Rules respecting Grand Committees." Then, shortly afterwards, the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say—"If you have got these 12 disciplinary Rules, and even if you have got your Standing Committees, I am very much inclined to think that you will be disappointed in the result, and that what you think and anticipate will be the result and effect will not be so great as you imagine." Then, if the effect of the two combined changes is not to be so great as we anticipate, surely that is a justification for us in endeavouring to go on, though we have obtained the first part of the Resolutions, with the second part of our proposals also. Now, I myself have been for some years anxious to see the Procedure of the House in some respects reformed; and I hope the Rules which have already been adopted, and the supplementary Rules which I trust will be adopted, will contribute very much to improve the conduct and facilitate the progress of Business in this House. At the same time, I must say that I entertain no exaggerated notions of the great effect that is to follow from them—that is to say, I do not disguise from myself that there will still remain considerable difficulties in regard to the conduct of Business in this House; and I am prepared to make that admission to the right hon, and learned Gentleman, if it is any satisfaction to him. I have no doubt that when we come to put these different New Rules in force that some difficulties connected with them, which have not been foreseen, may possibly crop up, when they come to be put in practice and have to be dealt with. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said—"What is the advantage of these Resolutions? You have already got 12 disciplinary Rules." Now, the 12 disciplinary Rules are entirely for a different purpose, they are for regulating the order and conduct of the Business of the House; whereas those Standing Committees are intended to multiply the working power of the House, and to endeavour, by a division of labour, to facilitate the progress of legislation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman complains of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), and he says my right hon. Friend has only addressed himself to this point—that the simple question before the House was whether these Resolutions should be tried experimentally. No doubt, my right hon. Friend said—"Try them as an experiment," and my right hon. Friend was quite entitled to say that, because the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) is simply to the effect that the House should refuse to allow the experiment to be tried. That is the only question at issue—is the experiment of Standing Committees to be tried, "Aye" or "No?"
SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
My Amendment is to the effect that there is neither time to debate these proposals, nor for the House to consider them.
Very well. The effect of that is that we should not agree to try the experiment now.
Sir R. ASSHETON CROSS
I contend that we are not in a position to do it.
What we are endeavouring to persuade the House is that we should pass these Resolutions now, and give the experiment a fair trial. The immediate question, therefore, raised by the Amendment is whether we shall give a trial to the experiment—"Aye" or "No." The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) who has just sat down has divided the matter into three great crucial questions. The first is, is it to be a matter of absolute necessity that the Bills mentioned in the Resolutions are to be committed to a Standing Committee of the House? The answer to that will be found by the right hon. and learned Gentleman if he will examine the 4th Resolution, which states that, as a general rule, such Bills shall be committed to one of the Standing Committees, "unless the House shall otherwise order."
It says the general rule shall be so.
That is the effect of the general rule—namely, that the general practice shall be to refer the Bills mentioned to one of the Standing Committees, unless the House shall otherwise order.
Would they not refer themselves to a Standing Committee under that Rule, without any intervention on the part of the House? That is the whole point.
The whole point is that the House will always have the power of ordering otherwise.
Will the House have the opportunity of doing so before any Bill is sent to the Committee upstairs? That is the whole point.
In regard to each Bill?
Yes. What would be the use of this Resolution if the House was not to have that power? Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman put another question. He said—"What is meant by 'the composition of the House?'" I should have thought that a Gentleman of the ability of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was equal to the interpretation of those words, and that he would see that the Committee of Selection was to appoint the Standing Committee not on the principle upon which Select Committees are now appointed—namely, by taking an equal number from each side of the House—but rather in regard not only to the character of the Bills themselves, but to the character of the House and its composition. In point of fact, that it should be a fair Committee, and I cannot find better words to express it than the words of the Resolution itself—namely, "the composition of the House."
Does it mean Party composition?
Party composition will, doubtless, be one element, and the character of the Bills themselves will be another. Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman asks a third question, which he seems to think was the most tremendous poser of all. He says—"You do not define what is law; you do not define what is trade." Well, it is no very easy matter to define them. It is said—"Who is to decide what Bills are to go to the Committee?" Well, I answer, the House. [An hon. MEMBER: How?] How? Why, in the ordinary way. The right hon. and learned Member knows how to get a name affixed to a Committee. I think he is the hon. Member who spoke of a former Resolution as a "Gagging Resolution," and he now speaks of this as revolutionizing the House of Commons. I do not know whether he was here when the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Stanhope) spoke; but, if he was, he must, unless I am very much mistaken, have heard this Resolution described as one "dealing with the very small question of relegating certain Bills to Grand Committees." Whether it be a small question, or whether it be a revolution, I think the House will not be frightened by the alarming epithet of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and will not shrink from debating it properly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman appears to think that the country cares nothing for legislation. [Mr. GIBSON: I did not say that.] And then he proceeded to ask—"How are these Grand Committees to help legislation?" In reply to that query, I would say we hope they will help legislation by dividing the House, and by enabling us to make progress with a greater number of Bills. We trust that it will relieve the labour of the great bulk of Members of the House as regards Committees of the Whole House by delegating the duties of Committees of the Whole House, with regard to certain Bills, to the limited number of Members composing the Standing Committees. If this is not a proposition calculated at once to mul- tiply the working powers of the House, and, at the same time, to relieve a considerable number of Members from labour, I am at a loss to understand what plan could effect it. Some hon. Member—I think it was the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), whom I do not see in his place—made an attack on the Committee of Selection, and that attack reminded me of the line of argument taken all through the discussion of the 12 former Resolutions. What was the bugbear held out to us all through that discussion? Why, it was that the Speakers and Chairmen of Committees of the future would be fearful monsters, in whom no fairness would be found; and the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock, and other hon. Members who have spoken in the same sense, have adopted the same tone in regard to the Committees of Selection of the future. They say—"How are you to trust future Committees of Selection?" Sir, the answer is the same as that given in the case of the Speaker and Chairman of Committees. You have had experience of Committees of Selection for many years, and you have always found them to work fairly and honourably, and to give satisfaction to the House generally; and until a contrary state of things prevails I decline to believe that the Committees of Selection of the future will not prove as fair and as honourable, and give as much satisfaction to the House as those of the past. Then it has been said that the country is in no haste for legislation, and that there are no signs that the country is not satisfied with the way in which Business is conducted in this House. Well, that is a matter of opinion, and Gentlemen on this side of the House, according to their experience, or according to their ideas, will maintain their opinions. My own opinion, from what I have been able to see, hear, and read outside, is that for some time past the House has fallen short in the proper conduct of its Business—that it has been to a great extent paralyzed, and has not been able to get through the amount of legislation or conduct its legislation with that accuracy and decision which was expected of it. I have only one other point to refer to, and I am sorry at this hour to have detained the House so long. It has been represented that these Grand Commit- tees are to be Committees of experts; and it has been objected that the Bills referred to them will, consequently, be considered from an extremely narrow point of view. I would only point out that the 2nd Resolution negatives that proposition. The direction it gives to the Committees of Selection is that in nominating the Committees regard is to be had to the class of Bills to be committed to them, and to the composition of the House, and the qualifications of hon. Members. It must not be supposed that the qualification of a Member will consist merely in his being an expert on a particular subject. The direction will be of a general character, and it appears to me it will be a very fair one as to the principle on which they are to be guided in composing the Committee—namely, as far as possible to make it, having regard to the character of the Bills, representative of the character and composition of the House. Sir, I venture to hope that we may now be allowed to arrive at a decision on the Amendment before us. ["No, no!"] Yes; the Amendment before us is one which simply raises the issue—are we to be allowed to try this experiment next Session or not? It is said we should not pass this Resolution now because of the lateness of the Session; but this Autumn Session has been held on purpose to determine this matter of Procedure, and I venture to think that we are in a better position to consider this subject now, during the present Sitting, which has been held for this special purpose, when our minds are free and unencumbered with other Business, than we should be at the commencement of another Session, when we shall have a large amount of Business of various kinds hanging over us, which we shall be anxious and eager to dispose of.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—( Captain Aylmer.)
Motion agreed to.
Debate adjourned till To-morrow.