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Business Of The House

Volume 91: debated on Friday 15 March 1901

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I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he can state on what date it is proposed to move Mr. Speaker out of the Chair for the purpose of discussing the Navy Estimates.

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether, in the event of financial exigencies necessitating Votes A and 1, Army Estimates, being obtained before the close of next Tuesday's sitting, he can give, an assurance that before any other Votes are submitted in Committeean opportunity will be afforded to the House of discussing the nature of the work to be done by the British Army under the conditions of maritime supremacy.

The question of my hon. and gallant friend brings up in a very clear way the condition in which we are in regard to getting Mr. Speaker out of the Chair on the Army Estimates. I perfectly understand that the House is not satisfied with the amount of discussion which has taken place, either on the question of Mr. Speaker leaving the Chair or on Votes A and 1. But it is really necessary in the general interests that all those questions should be decided to-day, and if that is not possible I am afraid we ought to sit to-morrow. [Nationalist cries of "Certainly, and on Sunday too."] I think we should avoid that alternative if we can. [Nationalist cries of "No."] Even to oblige hon. Gentlemen opposite, we should, I think, avoid if we can the general inconvenience to other hon. Gentlemen of a Saturday sitting.

There is a stronger argument. I do not think that even with a Saturday sitting there could be adequate discussion of the very important military questions raised by these Votes. More than one suggestion! has been made for getting over the difficulty. The hon. Member for Mid Lanark suggests the ingenious plan of withdrawing Votes A and I and getting the necessary amount of money by a Vote on Account for the Army. No doubt something might be said for that, but it is a plan, I remember, that Mr. Gladstone strongly objected to in 1883 or 1884, and it has the disadvantage that the continuation of the discussion on my right hon. friend's Army scheme would go on on the question of Mr. Speaker leaving the Chair. I do not think that is a convenient method, because my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition and the light hon. Member for West Monmouthshire have spoken on that. So, too, have I. No power to reply is left to any of those Gentlemen. I think the whole question should be raised again in a substantive form, and in a manner which would neither trench on the twenty-three days of Supply, nor exclude so important a contributor to the debate as my right hon. friend who is responsible for the scheme, and who is necessarily and naturally its chief defender. I would therefore ask my right hon. friends who are properly anxious to speak upon the question to defer dealing with it until a substantive resolution is brought before the House after Easter embodying the main outlines of the proposals, and therefore giving the House a full opportunity of raising any question they like upon it. That would. I think, be far more convenient, and at the same time meet the wishes of everybody. It would enable the necessary business of Supply to be concluded and it would not involve any sacrifice of the ordinanry discussion in Supply, which, limited as it is by the twenty-three days rule is rather intended for the ordinary criticism of Government administration than for the discussion of any great constructive scheme. Having tried to meet the wishes of the House, I trust the House will meet the Government by allowing the Speaker to leave the Chair, and giving them Votes A and I in the course of this evening.

Will the Government agree that no steps shall be taken to put into effect any of the proposals of the War Secretary until the House has had the opportunity of debating them?

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake that in order to afford an opportunity of discussing this subject private Members shall not be deprived of their rights after Easter?

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the debate shall come on early after Easter, and not be delayed until July or August?

I shall bring on the resolution as soon as I can after Easter, but I cannot give any pledge until I have consulted the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the demand he is likely to make on the House with regard to financial business. I hope the House will meet me in a reasonable spirit. We must have the men for the South African War, quite apart from the general Army scheme. No progress of any material kind can or will be made in carrying out that part of the scheme which is concerned with the organisation of army corps before the resolution is brought forward.

[No answer was returned.]

We understand that it is the intention of the Government to afford this opportunity as early as possible after Easter, consistently with other necessary business.

Am I right in understanding that although the right hon. Gentleman does not bind himself not to take steps in regard to military exigencies under the Vote, yet ho will not do anything to bring the new scheme into execution beyond what is required by military exigencies? Will his resolution be of such a nature, too, as to enable the whole scheme to be amply discussed' and no part kept back on the ground that it has already been before the House?

My desire will be that the resolution shall cover the whole ground. With regard to the organisation of the army corps, no progress of a material kind can or will, be made in carrying out that part of the scheme.

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman that his resolution will bear in mind the influence of our sea-power in determining the work to be done by the Army; Shall we be able to discuss that?

That, I imagine, will be for the Speaker to determine. I do not propose to mention maritime power in my resolution, but still it seems to me that the organisation of the land Army cannot be wholly separated from the question of maritime power.

But will the resolution be so framed as to enable us to discuss these broader features?

I do not know if, on the motion that Mr. Speaker leave the Chair, the hon. and gallant Member could discuss Naval details, but he might raise the debate perhaps on an Amendment to my resolution.

Will it be permissible to put down an Amendment to the resolution so as to raise a definite issue—the same as is done on Vote A?

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he can make any statement with regard to the order in which he proposes to take financial business next week.

My present intention is to take the Navy Estimates first on Monday and probably to proceed with them; I do not know what the House feels about that. Then we shall take the Civil Service Supplementary Estimates.

Are we to understand that the motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates will not be taken until after Easter?

Perhaps the hon. Member will put a question to mo upon that point next week. I take it there will be no difficulty in getting through. Votes A and 1 and the motion that the Speaker leave the Chair to-night, in which case I will not put the House to the trouble of discussing whether we shall sit to-morrow.

The Irish Members are quite prepared to sit on Saturday, but if they assent to the arrangement suggested will the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to give special facilities for the discussion of Irish subjects?

If it should be necessary to sit to-morrow will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a continuous sitting from now till 11 p.m. on Saturday, so as to avoid having to be here on Sunday?

As the Navy Estimates have only very recently been laid before the House, cannot the discussion of them be taken later than Monday?

I shall be quite ready to adjourn the discussion after the statement of my hon. friend in moving the Navy Estimates, and then take the Civil Service Supplementary Estimates. As I am afraid I am not fortunate enough to carry hon. Gentlemen opposite with me I shall have to make a motion before the commencement of public business.

If the right hon. Gentleman will give us some solid assurance that the motion that the Speaker leave the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates will not be proceeded with before Easter, I think we might reasonably assent to the arrangement proposed.

I am most anxious not to burke the discussion in which the hon. Gentleman is interested. I assume he does not want it to come on immediately after Easter?

Then on the understanding that we get Mr. Speaker out of the Chair to-night, and also Votes A and 1, I will undertake not to move that the Speaker leave the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates until after Easter.