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Friday, 24 November 1905

Mr HENRY WILLIS (Robertson) - I agree with the remarks made by the honorable member for Lang, and I support the amendment which he has indicated his intention to move. I agree that some measures must be taken to put a stop to the long speeches which have hitherto been inflicted upon the House. A great wrong has been done to some honorable members owing to the latitude that has been extended to others who have thought fit to weary us with long-winded orations. In effect, the closure has been applied in many cases, because some honorable members have occupied so much time that it has been considered necessary to enter into an arrangement by which the debate could be brought to a close within a reasonable period, and many honorable members have thereby been deprived of an opportunity to express their opinions upon matters in regard to which they have felt verv strongly. Stringent measures for the limitation of debate have been adopted in the House of Commons with good effect, and similar rules might, with advantage, be adopted by us. We know that the abuse of any privilege will lead to the adoption of extreme remedial measures. At the same time, I do not approve of the action of the Government in bringing forward drastic provisions, with the idea of pushing through a certain measure now before the House. The leader of the Labour Party has made it clear that the Government brought forward their closure proposals because of the legitimate resistance offered to provisions in the Trade Marks Bill, to which strong objection is taken byl a body of the electors. In all other cases in which closure rules have been adopted, they have been introduced early in the session. In the House of Commons, the more stringent of the. closure rules were not adopted until there had been months of obstruction, and a number of members had been elected from the House. The Government, in this case, had not had to encounter any such difficulties. Ministers have chosen' a very inopportune time to introduce their proposals. They have selected a period when passions have been inflamed-

Mr Deakin - We are doing exactly what is. done fra the House of Commons as the session advances.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - But, as has recently been pointed out by Mr. Asquith, the application of the closure in the House of Commons has now developed into an abuse. He says : -

When measures reached the stage at which they ought to be properly discussed, the guillotine was applied, and they were passed in the form devised by the Government, but never approved or revised by the House.

I take it that when honorable members speak for hours at a stretch upon any particular measure, they exclude others from participating in the debate upon it. By so much as those members are excluded from taking part in the discussion, by so much do we practically disfranchise their constituents. This shows the abuse of freedom of speech.

Mr McLean - The time limit would be the best cure for that evil.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I do not think that a time limit should be imposed1 upon all honorable members' speeches. I can quite conceive of the honorable member for Gippsland occupying, perhaps, two Hours in an address which was brimful of information. Such a deliverance ought not to be closured. Mr. Asquith further says : -

Then, again, with regard to the voting of public money, the theory of the constitution was that the people's representatives were sent to Parliament to control expenditure, but what was the practice ?

He also affirms that in the House of Commons the result of "the application of the closure has been to sanction the expenditure of tens of millions sterling without any consideration whatever being given to the matter. During the currency of this Parliament I have seen millions of pounds voted practically without discussion, simply because the House had been exhausted by the long speeches of certain honorable members, and had no heart to consider details. Immediately those honorable members have concluded their remarks,, the cry has been raised : " Let us get to a division." I say that the evils to which Mr. Asquith refers exist here under licence. That fact in itself evidences the necessity for the application of the closure in some form, if not in the form proposed by the Government. I believe that the form adopted by the House of Commons is much preferable to that submitted by the Ministry, because under the former a discretionary power is vested in Mr. Speaker to say when the closure shall be brought into operation.

Mr Watson - Would not such a system impose upon Mr. Speaker rather an invidious task?

Mr HENRY WILLIS -.- I do not think so. We all recognise the absolute impartiality of Mr. Speaker. We know that he is well able to determine whether an honorable member is making a useful contribution to any debate, and whether his remarks are acceptable to the House. Mr. Asquith further states : -

This was a most serious state of things, for it amounted to nothing less than a creeping and progressive paralysis of the Parliamentary organism.

I have long been of opinion that this Parliament has reached a state of paralysis. We frequently hear honorable members repeating at great length what they have previously uttered. As a result, honorablemembers generally retire from the House utterly exhausted. The foetid atmosphere of the Chamber in itself is not calculated to sharpen one's faculties, and I say that the House is absolutely paralyzed by the longwinded speeches of honorable members upon all sides of the Chamber.

Sir William Lyne - Oh, no.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I am not referring to the present session particularly. My remarks are applicable to the period which has elapsed since the very inception of this Parliament. I have long been of opinion that my constituents have been badly treated, inasmuch as very frequently when I desired to speak, I have been told that it was time the House got to a division. I seldom speak at length, and I hail with satisfaction the opportunity, to vote for some sort of closure, although I do not think that the present is the proper time to introduce it. The general impression outside is that ;these proposals have been brought forward to enable the Government to push through certain legislation. That legislation has never been before the country, and the closure should not be applied to it. Mr. Asquith continues -

What were the symptoms? First, a growing impotence of Parliament as an instrument of legislative production and financial control -

I think I Have shown very clearly that long speeches and tedious repetition produce the same effect. The House really becomes impotent when it is within the power of a small coterie of members to obstruct legislation. In conclusion, Mr. Asquith says - and, secondly, a growing resort to violent measures by the Government.

In the present instance, honorable members of the Labour corner practically say to the Government, " We will give you the power which you seek, upon the condition that you pass certain legislation which is demanded by labour organizations generally, but which is not demanded by the people." All the evils which Mr.. Asquith alleges have been produced by the abuse of the closure, have been created here by the abuse of freedom of speech. I trust that the Government will adopt the amendment which has been foreshadowed, and defer the consideration of these proposals until the recommendations of the Standing Orders Committee are under review. I do not think that any great hardship would follow the application of these proposals to proceedings in Committee. I was astonished when I first learned that an honorable member could deliver set speeches in Committee. I hope that the usage of the House of Commons will be adopted, and that the Committee stage of a Bill will be regarded as purely a business stage. Certainly, it should not (be a. period at which exhaustive debate should take place. If a proposal is not acceptable to the Committee, there is every reason why it should be disposed of immediately. If a member is a nuisance, he should be closured. I hope that I shall not come within that category:, although I recognise that there is a danger that I may do so under the present system, because one gets so little opportunity of talking under the gaslight-

Mr Thomas - The honorable member always has something to say.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - In all probability the honorable member does not mean that.

Mr Deakin - The interjection of the honorable member for Barrier is a compliment to the honorable member.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I will take it as such. At any rate, I have never had an inclination to talk for the mere sake of hearing myself speak. It is quite a common tiling for me to tear up the notes of half-a-dozen speeches, because I have not had an opportunity to deliver them. Upon one occasion I informed the leader of the Opposition of _ this " fact, and, in reply, he said : " But it' all does good. It is a preparation for the next speech." I recognise that it is. The preparation of those notes has done some good j but I think that if I had been allowed an opportunity to place my views on record, it would have done .this House and the country much more good.

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