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ceased to report Parliamentary Debates. The Times' is now the only newspaper in London, which presents anything like an accurate record of what has taken place in Parliament the preceding day. It is assumed by the other London journals, that the people no longer care to know what happens at St. Stephen's. But it is to be observed, that the conductors of the great provincial papers, in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and other large centres of population, do not share this opinion. Their Parliamentary reports are much fuller and more accurate than any to be found in the London papers, with the exception of the Times.' In a day when the great bulk of the people take a livelier interest in politics than ever they did before, it is not at all probable that they are indifferent to the proceedings which go on in Parliament. But it cannot be denied, that the waste of time which is now so common, the too frequent brawls and “scenes,' the triumph of obstructive tactics, the comparative powerlessness of the authorities who are responsible for the transaction of public business—all these circumstances are causing Parliament to be regarded with impatience, and sometimes with disgust. It would be idle to deny that the House of Commons has temporarily fallen from its high estate.
Four years ago, we described the obstacles which then existed to the proper discharge of the duties of the popular branch of the Legislature.* Since then, everything has been steadily going from bad to worse. The difficulty of preserving order is found to be greater than ever it was before ; more time is wasted in tedious repetitions, or by tactics which are invented for the purpose of preventing any real work being done. And yet during these four years, alterations of the most sweeping, we may almost say, of the most hazardous kind, have been made in the Rules of the House. If we look back over the last ten years, from the period of Mr. Gladstone's second Administration to the present hour, we shall find that the entire procedure of the House has undergone changes which would have seemed utterly incredible a generation ago. We say nothing about the old Parliamentary leaders, but could even Mr. Disraeli return to the House now, he would find himself at a loss to understand its daily proceedings. He could not carry through the business of a single night, until he had informed himself properly on the far-reaching details of the new Standing Orders. Since we gave in these pages an account of the inner life of the House, the Rules have been modified in such a way as to leave many
old members, who are not regular attendants, completely in the dark as to their operation. The hour of meeting has been changed, and so has the hour of adjournment. The Closure has been adopted, and can be set in action on the motion of a private member. No opposed business can be taken after midnight, unless by special resolution of the House, to be adopted at the commencement of public business. New regulations have been made for morning sittings. The stages of Committee and Report on the Address to the Crown, at the opening of Parliament, have been discontinued.' Notices of questions can no longer be read out in the House. The Speaker or Chairman of Committees has power to put a motion for the adjournment of the House, or for reporting progress, without debate, or he may decline to put it at all. Power has also been given him to order a member who persists in irrelevance, or tedious repetition either of his own arguments, or of the arguments used by other members in Debate,' to discontinue his speech, and resume his seat. This might, no doubt, be used with crushing effect, but hitherto justice has been very largely tempered with mercy in its application. The presiding officer may furthermore order a member who is guilty of disorderly conduct to leave the House, and forbid him to return during that day's sitting. When a division is frivolously or vexatiously demanded, he may refuse to allow it to be taken in the usual way, and direct the members who call for it to stand up in their places and be there counted by the clerks—a somewhat trying ordeal to go through. Standing Committees have been appointed to which all Bills relating to Law and Justice, Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures, Agriculture and Fishing, are referred. There is no longer any Committee of the whole House on any Bills coming within these categories. The Speaker now leaves the Chair without putting the question when the Order of the Day is read for going into Committee, unless it be a Committee of Supply or of Ways and Means. All these immense changes—the scope and importance of which can only be properly appreciated by those who have some practical knowledge of Parliamentary Procedure—have been carried out within the last four years. And yet we learn, on the authority of the Prime Minister, that obstruction has been king,' that it paralysed the House and the Government last Session; that it was owing to its pernicious influence so little business could be done; and the nation is now invited to step in and put it down. Whatever else may be doubtful, it is perfectly clear that the evil is not of so simple or of so easily remediable a nature as is generally assumed out of doors.
* Quarterly Review,' October, 1886, “The House of Commons as it is.'
There is an elementary question which ought fairly to be weighed before we go any further. What is Obstruction in Legislative body? It is not so easy to answer that as might, at the first glance, be imagined. It affects various parties differently at different times. And, indeed, it will not do to regard the subject from a party point of view. Every danger which stands before us now would be increased by that policy. We will suppose that the Radical party, including the Irish contingent, were again governing the country, and that a Bill were introduced for the Disestablishment of the Church, or for the creation of a separate Parliament and an independent Executive in Ireland. What course would the Tory party think it necessary to adopt ? Would they not endeavour to procure delay, so that there might be time for awakening the country thoroughly to what was going on-time for instructing public opinion, time for that opinion to make itself felt and understood ? Would not almost any action be deemed justifiable, which offered a fair and reasonable hope of baffling the attack on the National Church, or of preventing the division of the country? We cannot attempt to deal with obstruction of Parliamentary business from the supposition that the Tory party will always be in office. The instruments which we forge will be turned some day against ourselves, only they will be used with a rigour and an unscrupulousness which we have never thought of exercising. This contingency can never be left out of sight. And it is not sufficient to urge that, if the Conservatives do not take further measures to restrict freedom of discussion, the Radicals will do so when they have the power. That line of argument has already beguiled us into several roads from which we should have done well to turn our faces. There is a great difference between the Conservative party introducing principles of legislation, and having those principles forced upon them under protest. If both parties alike are engaged in a struggle as to which can carry out the greatest number of changes in a given space of time, the future which is before the country need not be in a moment's doubt. We have, therefore, to combine prudence with firmness in the attempt to clear obstruction out of the way of Parliament.
It would be extremely difficult to produce a definition of obstruction, which would be satisfactory to all parties, or be applicable to all circumstances, but those who have under their very eyes the work of the House, can be in no doubt as to the precise moment when the obstructive machine is set in motion. One member after another gets up on the same side of the House, and gives more or less disjointed and confused utterance
to criticisms or opinions which have already been repeated, until almost everybody is weary of listening to them. Each clause, each line, of a Bill in Committee may form the subject of innumerable speeches. Sometimes it is found that an inverted kind of log rolling' is being practised. You help us to oppose this Bill, and we will do the same turn for you when another Bill which you specially dislike comes on.' deal of this bargaining was carried on during the last Session. Under the twelve o'clock rule, a small number of men may easily ótalk a measure out ’ for that sitting, and the next day they can come down to the scene of action, and begin the same performance all over again. It is not in order for any other member to accuse the speakers of obstruction. And it may be far from a simple matter for the presiding officer to decide that they are committing that offence. There is much that may fairly be said about the probable action and scope of a particular clause in any Bill, and to put an end to discussion on such points would be a dangerous stretch of authority. Scarcely any measure is introduced into the Legislature, which is perfect at its birth, or which does not receive great improvements in the course of its passage through either House of Parliament. The obstructionists can very readily take advantage of the opportunities thus afforded to them. A little knot agree that the Bill shall not be advanced beyond a certain point on any given day. They get together a few facts and arguments, or materials which may pass muster in the hurry of the moment for facts and arguments, and slowly wade their way through them. Piles of statistics may be produced, and thrown before the House in unintelligible and studied confusion. Old Blue-books may be rummaged, and it will be strange if nothing apposite to the subject can be dug up out of them. Perhaps there has been a Parliamentary Committee to enquire into the question at some previous time, and their investigations can now be worked into the general mass. In this way, a speech of an hour and a half can be strung together without any fear of exhausting the intellectual powers. Of course it empties the House, but why should the obstructionists care for that?
They do not want an audience; they are quite content to grind out words to empty benches. Their sole object is to waste time. If they were peremptorily suppressed, who is to guarantee that perfectly legitimate opposition to an objectionable Bill might not be suppressed also, especially by some future presiding officer, chosen, perhaps, under the influence of strong partisanship, or an overwhelming current of popular feeling? Put all power into the hands of the presiding officer, and how can any one tell that it might not be disastrously misused, perhaps at a critical moment in our history?
The obstructionists understand the force of these considerations, and trade upon them. They know that the House does not like to construct new cells of Little Ease' for itself. At the present time, the Radical party is anxious to force the Conservatives to narrow the limits of debate, and to restrict the rights of the minority. They expect to come to power at the next election, as all parties in opposition do; and they want to have appliances ready to their hands to use against the Conservative opposition. They could invent them, if they were not already made, but they prefer to work with our tools. Should the time come when a Conservative complained that Bills were being forced through the House of Commons without proper discussion, the answer would be that their party were the authors of the legislation which rendered such proceedings possible. Mr. Labouchere, Mr. Storey, and the Forwards' generally like nothing better than to incur the displeasure of the House, or to cause an alteration of the Rules in the direction of greater stringency. The Irish section of Gladstonians who act with them are always at hand when help is needed. And it must be borne in mind that the leading Irish members are complete masters of the whole science of obstruction. When they are joining in a campaign of this sort, or have set one on foot for themselves, they generally manage to keep it going for hours, if not for days. The Rules inight be altered every week, and still they would contrive to obstruct without coming into open conflict with them. This it is, no doubt, which gives the Parnellite party their great power in Parliament. They have thoroughly mastered the Standing Orders of the House, and know precisely what can be done and what cannot. They have no compunctions about lowering the character of the House of Commons, for is it not, as Mr. Gladstone has taught them, an alien' House, passing 'alien’ laws? To bring the House of Commons into contempt and disrepute is, in their eyes, not only a legitimate, but a most laudable part of the war' in which they are engaged. Did not one of their number boast long ago that it was their aim and object to break the Parliamentary machine?' What is the British Parliament worth in the eyes of the Parnellite party except as a channel for inflicting humiliation upon England, and for striking blows at her from the very heart of the citadel ? Never did any legislature of which history bears record contain within itself so compact a body determined to cripple and destroy it. It would be madness to underrate the capacity or