HC Deb 18 July 1831 vol 4 cc1397-401

Mr. Hobhouse, on the motion being made that this petition be printed, rose to ask the noble Lord below him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer),whether it would not be advisable to extend the hours of the House's sitting, in order to expedite the important business then before it. Could not the House meet at ten o'clock in the morning, as the House of Lords did during the continuance of the Queen's trial? It would be impossible, he was afraid, to go on without some measure of this nature; for notice had been already given of twenty-three or twenty-four Amendments to be proposed in the Bill, which, if no debate were to take place upon the clauses, must occupy at least three weeks in the discussion. That being the case, and wishing for a full deliberation of this great question, and not wishing for the occurrence of any delay that the country could justly complain of, he thought that the House ought to depart from its usual rules, and to meet at a much earlier hour of the day. As the Bill had now got into the Committee, there was not the same objection to this proposal as there might have been at another time. By having one Chairman to sit in the morning, and another to sit in the evening, the business now before the House might easily be disposed of. By this arrangement, the Speaker would be enabled to devote his valuable time to the other business of the House, as he would only have occasion to take the Chair in the morning, until the House went into Committee. He would not make a motion to the effect which he had just stated, but feeling deeply interested in the success of the question, he had taken the liberty of throwing out a suggestion to the King's Government, of the absolute necessity of coming to some such arrangement.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

submitted, that it was quite impossible that any such arrangement as that which the hon. member for Westminster had just suggested, could be carried at present into execution. There were many election committees now sitting, and the Members who were ballotted to serve upon them were compelled by law to give their attendance at ten o'clock in the morning. How, therefore, could such Members be present at a discussion of so much importance as that on the Reform Bill?

Lord Althorp

assured his hon. friend, the member for Westminster, that the Government, seeing the length to which the discussions in the Committee on the Reform Bill were likely to run, had taken this very suggestion into consideration. He thought that nothing had, at present, occurred which would justify such an extraordinary departure from the customs of the House as the sitting at ten o'clock in the morning. Still, he would say, that if any delay were to be so wilfully created as to make it likely that this all-important Bill would be defeated by the lapse of time, it would be the duty of the House to take measures to expedite the progress of business. With regard to the Committees sitting on election petitions, he admitted, that if those Committees were to be ballotted for, the objection which his right hon. friend had just raised to the House commencing its sitting at ten o'clock in the morning was perfectly insurmountable. There might, however, be circumstances which would render it desirable to make an alteration in that respect. He repeated his conviction, that nothing had yet occurred in the House which would justify him in acceding to his hon. friend's suggestion; still he would not go the length of asserting, that circumstances might not occur which would induce him to accede to it.

Colonel Davies

thought, that the proposition of the hon. member for Westminster was one which the House ought instantly to adopt. Judging from the little progress which had been made in the Bill during the past week, he would say, that, instead of three weeks, six mouths would not see them at the close of the discussion upon it. Though he felt no less willing from inclination, than from duty to his constituents, to remain at his post in that House, he was afraid that many Members would be weaned out by the vexation and the delay. Besides, the country would grow impatient, and would think, that the parties who had the management of the Bill were not sincere, if they always kept moving: without making any progress. He hoped, that his noble friend would take this suggestion into his consideration. The decision on the election petitions might be postponed without inconvenience or expense to any person, except in one or two of the earliest cases, in which the witnesses were, perhaps, in town.

Sir E. Sugden

asserted, that what had just fallen from the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had the appearance of a threat to the House, which he had not expected from such a quarter. The noble Lord had said, that circumstances had not yet occurred which rendered the adoption of such a course necessary; but he had suggested, that if the progress of the Bill were further delayed, such a course would be followed. He did not wish to misrepresent the noble Lord, but he understood him in that sense. The noble Lord had said, that nothing had yet rendered the course suggested by the hon. member for Westminster necessary; but that, if any thing did render it necessary, he would unquestionably adopt it. One word as to the observation of the hon. member for Worcester, that despatch was necessary in order to satisfy the people of the sincerity of the parties who joined in the discussion of this Bill. Now, if there was one thing more to be deprecated than another in the discussion of this measure, it was the introduction of haste, and of any thing like a pressure on the House from without. That House, as at present constituted, how it might be hereafter constituted was a very different question, but the House, as at present constituted, consisted of individuals of all classes and professions in the country. There were many members of the profession to which he had the honour to belong, who were also Members of the House. They could not attend at ten o'clock in the morning. Was it intended to disqualify them, and others in similar situations, from attending their duties in Parliament? or was it intended to compel them to give up all their other occupations for the performance of their public duty alone? It appeared to him that the measure was proceeding through the House with all possible haste. It had been proposed, that they should have, in future, two Speakers, one to sit by night, and the other to sit by day. Were they, then, determined to sit by clay as well as by night? If so, that would be a novelty as great even as the existence of a reformed Parliament; and to enable them to go on with it, they must get, not a new Constitution for the country, but a new Constitution for themselves. Or were they to have two sets of Members? If they had not, he did not know how the work which the hon. member for Westminster had cut out for them could be got through. He, for one, had not strength for it; he could not sit in the House any longer than he did at present; he came in at its first meeting, and remained till its rising, from a wish, to perform his duty honestly by his country in this important crisis. With a view to the favourable reception of the Bill in the country, the noble Lord could not inflict a greater injury upon it than by forcing it precipitately through the House. Instead of exciting and agitating the people more and more every day, let the House and the Ministers pause, and give them time for a fair, a calm, and a dispassionate investigation of this measure.

Lord Althorp

appealed to the House whether he had said any thing which could justify the extraordinary speech of the hon. and learned member for St. Mawes? He meant no threat, nor had his words implied a threat. He had said before, and he would repeat the observation, that he had not seen any such loss of time yet occasioned to the Committee as required the application of the suggestion made by his hon. friend, the member for Westminster. He had, however, added, that if such obstruction should be offered in the shape of delay to the progress of this Bill, as would render it impossible to get it through the House in any reasonable time, it might then be necessary to resort to such a measure. He was well aware of the inconvenience of meeting at ten o'clock in the morning; but he must nevertheless remind the hon. member for St. Mawes, that it had always been the doctrine of that House, that the first, and by far the most paramount duty of a Member of Parliament, was, to give his attendance regularly in that House upon all questions of public importance. He meant, certainly, to do all that was right and proper to facilitate the progress of the Bill, and nothing beyond that.

Mr. Cresset Pelham

said, as this was a measure of the utmost importance, it ought on no account to be hurried forward so quickly as to prevent its receiving all the consideration possible. Such a comprehensive measure if it was properly considered, would necessarily take much time in passing. He regretted, that the measure had not been divided into parts, as that would have materially tended to shorten the discussion, and facilitate its progress.

The Petition to be printed.