HC Deb 19 May 1835 vol 27 cc1243-8
Mr. Ward

rose to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Select Committee on Divisions. He said the House was no doubt aware of the nature of the recommendations of the Committee. In the first place, the Committee repeated the opinion of a previous Committee, viz., that it was not in its power at present to recommend any system which appeared free from all objection. The Committee, or he as Chairman of the Committee received almost innumerable suggestions on the subject: the number of the correspondents was indeed ample proof of the interest taken in it by men of all parties and degrees. The Committee having considered the various suggestions, unanimously agreed, that of all the plans, the safest, simplest, and most intelligible was the "lobby" system. They proposed that upon the space now occupied behind the Speaker's chair a lobby should be erected; and that this having been done, on the House being cleared for a division, the Ayes should pass into the lobby at one end, and the Noes into the lobby at the other, when the doors should be closed.—The Clerks were then to proceed to take down the names, which being completed, the doors were to be simultaneously opened, and the names would be carried to the Table of the House, and there alphabetically arranged. The Committee did not feel itself justified in recommending the plan without having first ascertained what would be the expense of carrying it into effect; they had therefore examined Sir Robert Smirke, from whom they ascertained that a lobby might be built capable of accommodating 500 Members, with two staircases to communicate with the galleries, at an expense of 1,500l. A lobby without the staircases might be erected for only 1,200l.; and the Library Committee having reported that such was the dearth of accommodation that it would be necessary for the convenience of Members to expend 600l. in the erection of additional rooms, as the lobby proposed might be made available for general use, the additional expense which they must incur to enable them to carry the plan recommended of taking the divisions into effect would not exceed 600l. Unless this lobby were built, the whole plan of taking the divisions must be deferred till the completion of the new Houses, which would probably occasion a postponement of the experiment for three years. The matter having been twice referred to a Select Committee, and twice reported upon, for them to defer the experiment for the time he had stated, would, he thought, greatly disappoint the expectations of the public. It was proposed that the divisions should not be on all occasions taken in the manner suggested, but that a discretion should be reserved to the House. The Committee recommended that the divisions should be taken according to their plan on all great occasions, but that the ordinary course should be pursued with respect to divisions on ques- tions of minor importance or interest.—The whole subject had been so frequently before the House, that he did not consider it necessary to go into any lengthened arguments on the present occasion. When it was considered how little would be the expense, and of what great importance was the object they had in view, he trusted that they would not consent to render the labours of this Committee quite nugatory.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he entirely concurred as to the general principle laid down by his hon. Friend. He was quite satisfied, whatever objections might be raised against this particular proposition, that with respect to the general principle, the constituency out of doors, and not the constituency only, but the whole body of the public, had a full and perfect right to be informed of all the proceedings of this House. It was true that the vote of a Member without explanation accompanying it might, in a good many instances, be misconstrued, but while he admitted this, he must say that it was not by rejecting a proposition for making their votes known that the explanations would be rendered less necessary. Generally speaking, the vote would sufficiently explain itself. He was quite sure, as regarded the operation of such a principle, that a Government or a House of Commons willing to do right had nothing to fear from a knowledge of its proceedings being possessed by the constituency. He therefore assented to his hon. Friend's general principle, and the only difficulty he felt was as to its practical application. If it had not been for the misfortune which had placed them in this temporary building, he, for one, should have been ready to acquiesce in the proposition of his hon. Friend; but he felt that there might be some inconvenience from entertaining any question of building now. They had already appointed a Building Committee to act in conjunction with a similar Committee of the other House. Of that Committee he had only within these few days become a member, therefore he was not prepared to say, nor indeed would it be right of him to anticipate the Report—how far the proposed scheme might or might not interfere with some views which the Committee entertained. Under these circumstances, he would suggest to his hon. Friend whether the better course would not be to refer this report to the Committee appointed to consider the propriety of rebuilding both Houses of Parliament. If this suggestion were adopted, he should propose to add to the Committee the name of his hon. Friend, that he might have the best opportunity of explaining and recommending his own plan. To the present motion there was a technical objection to which he must call attention. There could be no question but that it involved a money grant, and it was proposed without any previous estimate having been laid before the House.

Mr. Warburton

said, that such an expression of opinion as they had just heard, coming as it did from a Chancellor of the Exchequer, and declaring in favour of an important principle, as well as announcing a wish for its application, would be considered of great value. But although the right hon. Gentleman had expressed his approval of the principle, he seemed to be satisfied to allow its execution to be deferred for a period of three years, as the new building could not in all probability be erected in a shorter space of time. The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind, too, that an experiment similar to that proposed by the hon. Member for St. Alban's had been tried during the last Session; and although he (Mr. Warburton) was the proposer of that plan, he did not hesitate to say, that the trial of the method of taking divisions which he had suggested did not prove altogether unsuccessful, inasmuch as it had only been made twice, and upon the second occasion a half minute only on his calculation had been lost. He was perfectly willing, however, to adopt the opinion of the Committee which had sat upon this subject, that the best course to pursue would be to have a lobby made in the manner explained by the hon. Member for St. Alban's; a mode of taking divisions which ought in his opinion to be tried as speedily as possible in the present House, with a view of ascertaining whether it was one which it might be expedient to adopt in the House which it was proposed to erect. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to entertain some apprehension that the adoption of such a resolution as that proposed might interfere with the proceedings of the Building Committee. He could state that all his fears on that head were perfectly groundless; for the resolution of the Committee on divisions had been communicated to the Building Committee, and the result was, that the latter Committee expressed its acquiescence in the proposal for having two lobbies erected at different sides of the present House, with the intention, he supposed (for they did not say so), of adopting the same plan, if approved of, in the new Houses, the mode of erecting which they had been appointed to determine. With respect to the time which this alteration would require, Sir R. Smirke had stated, that he could erect such a room as that intended in the short space of a fortnight; and the expense of doing so would only amount to the sum of 600l., which, as it was less than 1l. each for the whole of the Members of the House, could not, he was convinced, be objected to on any principle of rational or just economy. It had been said that the lobby would interfere with the new buildings. Now, as the present Houses of Parliament must remain until the new ones were finished, and as the intended lobby would be contiguous to the House of Commons, he did not see how the alteration could possibly place any obstacle in the way of proceeding with the new buildings. In conclusion, he should only repeat that the principle of this mode of taking divisions being approved of by the two committees, and not objected to by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, he felt persuaded that it was expedient to have it carried into execution as quickly as possible.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that there was a course which might, he thought, be properly taken under the circumstances in which the House was placed, and which, he thought, would meet their wish, as well as the views of the hon. Member for Bridport. He took it for granted (though it might not be perfectly regular to do so) that the Committee on Divisions had affirmed the principle contended for by the hon. Member opposite, and that the Building Committee had coincided in the expediency of carrying that principle into practice. The only question, therefore, now appeared to be, at what period it was proper that the intended plan should be adopted. He recommended that they should suspend all further proceedings on this subject until the next meeting of the Building Committee; and that, in the meantime, a communication should be made to Sir R. Smirke, directing that he should have a plan ready to submit to the Committee, with a statement of the cost of erecting a lobby in contiguity to the present House. [Mr. Warburton: Sir R. Smirke has already given his evidence relative to this alteration.]—Yes; but not a formal estimate, and his object in proposing the course which he had suggested was, that the experiment should not be carried into effect sooner than was consistent with the due regularity of their proceedings; and he could not think that the delay of a week, which the compliance with his recommendation would cause, was one of unjustifiable duration.

Mr. Ward

After the unqualified approbation which my right hon. Friend has expressed of the principle of the proposed plan, I can have no hesitation in adopting his suggestion.

Mr. Hume

was of opinion that it was perfectly competent for the Government to decide upon this matter without the interference of the Building Committee. He was persuaded that the right hon. Gentleman must see that the lobby would not at all interfere with the new buildings, and the proposed experiment thereon should, in his opinion, at once be made.

Mr. Aglionby

remarked, that the Building Committee had been appointed, not with reference to the temporary House, but for the purpose of superintending the erection of the permanent Houses of Parliament. He could not, therefore, see that any object could be accomplished by referring this Question, which affected the present House, to the consideration of the Building Committee.

Mr. Ridley Colborne

was of opinion that it was but justice to the Government to allow it a week to determine upon this alteration.

The Motion was withdrawn.