HC Deb 28 February 1834 vol 21 cc956-9
Mr. Feargus O'Connor

rose to bring forward the Motion, of which he had given notice, relative to the non-attendance of his Majesty's Ministers, during the early sittings of the House. He complained of the inconvenience and loss of time that resulted from their absence, and the consequent difficulty that was thrown in the way of the public business, of which no part was more important than the petitions of the people. The hon. Gentleman reminded the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) that he had given a pledge, when the present arrangement was first proposed, that one or other of the Ministers should be present during the early sitting, and appealed to him whether he meant to redeem that pledge, or whether it was to be thrown into the general receptacle of unredeemed pledges? He knew the noble Lord would smile the House out of countenance, and that he would have no opportunity, or, if he had an opportunity, would not be able to efface the impression of that smile; but he called upon hon. Members for ever to hold their tongues as to the absence of Ministers, unless they supported him now. He should never bring the question for- ward again, but should count the House every day when it was necessary. On a late occasion, when there were but twenty-four Members present, he moved that the House should he counted, and that moment in rushed eighty-one Members from the Committee-rooms. He would continue to do so, and would fill the House every day from the Committee rooms. The hon. Member moved the following resolution:—"That, by not attending at the morning sittings of the House of Commons, his Majesty's Ministers have not conformed to the pledge given by them in the last Session of Parliament; and also that this Mouse deems it essential, as much from a sense of justice to the people as of respect to their Representatives, that some member of his Majesty's Government should attend during the presentation of the petitions of his Majesty's loyal subjects"

Lord Althorp

said, he had undoubtedly made the promise stated by the hon. Member, and he might appeal to the House whether he had not, at the commencement of last Session, endeavoured to fulfil it. He had attended at the morning sittings for some time; but he fairly admitted, that he found it impossible to continue it. The bodily exertion was too much. This was not the first time the matter had been discussed. He had, when it was before alluded to, explained the circumstances of the ease; and he certainly understood it to be the general impression of the Gentlemen who spoke on that occasion, that they did not expect him to continue an exertion which he had found prejudicial to his health, and to his ability to attend to the public business. He admitted, that, when any question was to be brought forward relating to a department with which any particular member of the Government was connected, the presence of that individual member of the Government would be of great use, and would save considerable time; but the chances were, that, if notice were not given of the question to be brought forward, a satisfactory answer could not be given. He could state, on his own part, and he was sure he might say, also, on the part of his colleagues, that, whenever any Gentleman had a petition to present, to which he wished to call the attention of any member of the Administration, it should always meet with due attention. He did not believe that any hon. Member had hitherto made any such application, and failed of receiving that attention to which he was entitled. Undoubtedly, if it were the wish of the House to compel the attendance of his Majesty's Ministers during the early sittings, it would be their duty to comply; but he confessed, he did not think it would be for the advantage of the public service, as it would make them less able to do their duty at other times. He should leave it to the House to decide whether it would adopt the Resolution or not.

Mr. O' Connell

could not attribute any blame, personally, to the noble Lord; but thought it very desirable that Ministers should be present during the reception of petitions. He had presented many petitions, which he would have wished the noble Lord to have heard, and would have given him notice accordingly, but for the uncertainty as to the time when he might be able to bring them on. Really something ought to be done. The House ought to deliberate, and form some plan for altering the hours of sitting. That House was the only House that did business by night. They should sit in the day; the day should be devoted to business, and the night to repose. The protracted sittings of that House were ruinous to the health of Members, and of no real advantage to the public. When he first came into that House, and he was but a young Member, it sat only four days a-week; now it sat five days, and had sometimes sat six. By a plan which he could propose, their sittings might be confined to three days in the week. The House originally met at seven in the morning, subsequently at nine, then at one in the afternoon; and thus these bad habits had gradually crept upon them. The House ought not to sit after nine o'clock in the evening. No business could be well done after that hour. Speech-making might go on very well, but no real business could be done. After the explanation which had been given, he recommended his hon. friend to withdraw his Motion, and he hoped that either he or some other Member would bring forward a distinct proposition to alter the hours of that House. Thirty or forty Members combining together could certainly compel early adjournments of the House, but that would be a very disagreeable alternative to resort to.

Mr. Hume

put it to the consideration of the House, whether any animal strength could carry them through the present hours of sitting. They began in the morning, and went on until two of the morning following. He thought, that they should always adjourn at ten o'clock, or, at a events, that no new matter should be entered upon after eleven o'clock at night. If such a rule as this were to be adopted, hon. Members would soon learn to accommodate themselves to it, and the business of the country would be more properly conducted. He hoped the House would consider the propriety of always adjourning at ten o'clock.

Mr. Feargus

O'Connor withdrew his Motion.