HC Deb 05 February 1836 vol 31 cc108-16
Mr. Ewart

moved, that no business except such as was merely formal should be entered upon after half-past eleven o'clock at night. He had before brought forward a similar Motion last Session, and, though not formally, it had been virtually carried into effect by the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Brotherton), and his object was legally to effect what had already been effected without any positive law on the subject. There would be a great advantage in the House conceding to his proposition, as it must be perfectly obvious that public business would be better conducted by day, than at those unseasonable hours of the night.

Lord John Russell

dissented from the Resolution proposed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, for which no case of necessity appeared to exist. He thought it much better that hon. Members should be left to exercise their discretion as to the propriety of adjournment upon each particular occasion—a discretion which had so often during the last Session been exercised by the hon. Member for Salford, in a manner at once so agreeable and satisfactory.

Mr. O'Connell

thought no business of any kind ought to be begun after eleven o'clock at night. The only assemblies in the world which sat by night to transact their business instead of sitting by day, were the House of Commons and the House of Lords: that was, they were the only legal assemblies. It really was high time, that they ceased to do their business with the owls. They had lately been accustomed to hear a great deal about the wisdom of their ancestors. Now, their ancestors were wise enough to begin their business at eight o'clock in the morning-, and so lately as 1792, it was one of their standing regulations, that the Orders of the Day should be gone into at one o'clock in the afternoon, and not later. He submitted, therefore, to hon. Gentlemen opposite, that we should go back to the hours which the wisdom of our ancestors had considered the best. A great increase of the business of the House had taken place even within his own time. When he first became a Member of Parliament, they sat for four days in the week only. Now, if at the beginning of a Session, they were to sit three days a week, and commence at ten o'clock in the morning, he was convinced that it would enable them to transact the public business much more satisfactorily than according to the present arrangement. What was the fact at present? From half-past six to half-past nine were generally considered as dinner hours, and during that period nothing was done, or, which was equivalent to nothing, the time was spent in listening to those who would not be listened to at any other time, A more serious inconvenience still was the consequence of turning day into night in the manner they had done. It was highly prejudicial to the health of the Members. He knew at least two Gentlemen who had lost their lives from their incessant attention to the business of the House. Were it delicate to do so, he could name them; but he could assure the House, that it was to the late hours they kept there, that their families attributed their decease. It required a strong, robust constitution to perform the duties of a Member of that House efficiently, and this tended to discourage men of more mature age, men of experience, and less likely to be violent in their politics than younger men from undertaking so heavy a task. It was time they adopted some regulation more Consonant with common sense and the ordinary habits of the people. If they sat from ten o'clock in the morning, till dinner time for three days in the week, at the beginning of the Session, after that for four days a week, it would be an effectual sitting; and if on the alternate days Committees commenced their sittings at ten o'clock, private Bills, which now occupied several days together, would be got through in one day, or two at most, and the expense of paying numerous witnesses and Counsel, would be spared to the parties. It would spare the public expense; it would spare the public time; and business would be efficiently and properly transacted. For the present he should be satisfied with moving, as an Amendment, that the words "half-after" be omitted, and that the words, "except of a formal nature" be left out also.

Mr. Brotherton

approved of this suggestion, and were it not carried, he should persevere in moving the Adjournment of the House every night at twelve o'clock.

Mr. Robinson

complained, that the hon. and learned Member for Dublin had diverged from the original question, which only related to the curtailment of the hours at present devoted to business, and had wandered into the consideration of another question,—namely, to the propriety of sitting by day. This last change was so serious a one, that it could not properly be adopted without much previous notice and consideration. Plausible as it might at first sight appear, there were many objections to it which were of considerable force, and which ought to be most: maturely weighed. There were a large number of Members who must necessarily absent themselves from that House if it regularly transacted its business by day. The Ministers of the Crown, who bad to attend their offices and Cabinet Councils in the day time, and professional men, persons connected with the public offices, would all necessarily be subjected to the greatest inconvenience, if not to positive exclusion, if such an arrangement as this were to be adopted. On the whole, he thought it inexpedient to come to any resolution as to the length of their sittings without some further inquiry, for he Feared much, that any hasty determination would rather increase than lessen the difficulty.

Mr. Hume

said, that the hon. Member for Worcester had assigned a very good reason why certain Members who could not attend there should not be Members of that House at all; but surely it was somewhat an extraordinary reason to give why that House should not transact its business at the most convenient hours for itself and the public. No man should enter that House who was not prepared to sacrifice his whole time, if the public service required it; and those whose private engagements prevented them from so doing had better attend to their own business exclusively. With regard to his Majesty's Ministers, he was not one of those who thought the presence of his Majesty's Ministers essential on ordinary occasions. That House was overcharged with business. All private business ought to be removed from that House, and some plan should be adopted which would enable them to give the whole of their time to public business. What comparative importance was it whether a particular road was to be formed in Devonshire or Yorkshire or not, and yet to decide upon questions such as these some of the most important and valuable Members of that House were taken away from the consideration of matters of the greatest public moment. There was no other assembly on the face of the earth which at one and the same time took charge of all the public business of a great nation, and of all its private business too. What was the result? Why, towards the end of every Session, fifty, sixty, or seventy notices were constantly left upon their books; and no man could be a single Session there without being convinced that even what business they did was three- fourths of it ill-considered and badly conducted. As to the public Committees, there was scarcely getting any Member to attend them. If a man were appointed on a public Committee, he was almost always obliged to leave it for a private one, or if he did not he was hunted like a malefactor, whenever a division was about to take place, and hurried away to give his vote, to the great detriment of the public service. If this evil had been powerfully felt last Session, what an increase of it might they not expect this? He put it to them, in what a situation they would be in when fifty or sixty Rail-road Bills came into that House. He would give them the example of the Great Western Rail-road, the Committee on which sat for seventy days. Two Gentlemen who had been put on a Special Committee of great public importance, and who were the best informed men in the House on the subject which that Committee was commissioned to inquire into, were taken away the very first day, and compelled to sit day after day, on this private Committee, which they had no business with, because their constituents insisted on it, and because, whilst private business was to be transacted by that House, it was impossible to expect, that Members would offend their constituents by neglecting that which they deemed to be their local interest. It was of no use for them to deal in patch-work. The House had better look the real evil in the face, and meet it fairly. They were at present overburthened with business, and he put it to every Gentleman, whether eleven or twelve o'clock at night was not quite late enough? It' the public business could not be got through between ten in the morning and twelve at night, then the House had better at once resolve to sit all the year round; for the business at all events ought to be done. He protested against legislating by night to please either professional men or any other individuals. There was no necessity for it, and he saw no reason why they should not be enabled to go home like other decent people at twelve o'clock.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that in the whole course of his experience in that House, and it was considerable, he had never heard a more extraordinary proposition than that which had been just made by the hon. Member for Middlesex. That hon. Member had proposed to take away from that House the consideration of all matters of private business. Now, much private business, as it was called, occasionally involved considerations of serious public importance; and he for one should pause before he gave his assent to transfer it to any other tribunal whatever. He agreed that private business should be subject to such regulations as to prevent, if possible, the interference of private influence; but he could not concur in the policy of any regulation which should prevent hon. Members from giving their attention to the local interests of their constituents, by placing private business under the control of any other authority. He could not conceive anything more derogatory to the just authority of the House than such a transfer. The hon. Member said, "What signified a road in Yorkshire?" It might be true that a road between one village in Yorkshire and another was of no great importance to the nation at large, but the establishment of canals and of leading lines of fail-roads through the country was a matter of great national consequence, and involved considerations of far too great importance for him ever to consent that any authority less than Parliament should decide upon them. The hon. Member had himself shown that it would be unwise to press this proposition at the present moment; for he stated that some new regulations must be made for the arrangement of private business. Surely, then, it would be much more convenient to postpone the present Motion till those arrangements had been under consideration. The present Resolution would not meet the evil complained of. It required that no business should be pressed on after half-past eleven at night. The words of the corresponding resolution last Session were "no new business." Now the hon. Member complained as much of the protraction of debates after that hour as of the commencement of new business. All that this Resolution would prevent was a new debate on a new subject after half-past eleven. But he would put it to the hon. Gentleman whether the sense of the House itself would not be quite sufficient to prevent any new business from being improperly pressed forward at an untimely hour, without fettering themselves With such a resolution? If any Gentleman brought on a new subject after half-past eleven, and the House felt that it was already exhausted with the consideration of previous busi- ness, he felt convinced that there was sufficient of practical good sense in the House, and sufficient force in the modes in which their opinion was usually intimated, to prevent any unreasonable demand on their time and patience. It was quite unnecessary for them to pass any Resolution. No resolution could prevent the occasional extension of a debate to two or three o'clock in the morning, and therefore those who, like the hon. Member, desired to return to their rest regularly at twelve o'clock, would not have the opportunity which they so eagerly sought after. Much had been said about sitting in the day. Abstractedly speaking it might be better to commence business at ten in the morning than at five in the afternoon. But it was impossible for them now to make such a regulation, without many corresponding regulations to give it due effect. Without relying absolutely on the objection that it would exclude professional men and merchants, it would be well worth their while to consider, that although strictly speaking it was the duty of every man who sat there to sacrifice his private to the public business, whether the public would ultimately gain by a strict enforcement of this rule? Many eminent lawyers, and many eminent mercantile men, some of the most valuable Members of the House, would of necessity be excluded and it might fairly admit of doubt whether the public would gain much by a change which involved this consequence. Take also the case of Committees, public and private. If the House began business at ten o'clock, and if the attendance of its Members were required at its sittings, what time would they have disengaged to attend to Committees? If another consequence of their sitting at so early an hour was to be that Committees were to sit at a late hour at night, he appealed to the hon. Member himself whether the business on the whole would not be much worse done than it was at present? With regard to the attendance of the Ministers of the Crown, it would be no easy matter to make such an alteration in the mode of conducting their business, as would enable them to attend the House punctually and uniformly by day; and, setting apart entirely all consideration of their private convenience, he thought the necessity which would be imposed upon them of transacting their official business at the hours of two and three in the morning, would be detrimental to the public service. A resolution of this kind would, in fact, require so many corresponding resolutions to give it effect, and would create so great a change in all existing modes of transacting business, that be would not, at all events at present, and in the total absence of every other preparatory arrangement, give his consent to it.

Mr. Ewart

agreed with the hon. Member for Middlesex that a very large portion of the local business now transacted by that House might be judiciously transferred to local tribunals. One great source of complaint with him was, the irregularity of the pressure of business of the House upon some Members and not upon others. On what was technically termed "field days" there was a full attendance of Members, but on ordinary occasions the great burthen of attendance fell upon a certain number of Members who felt it their duty to remain at their posts, though they did not feel less strongly the unequal share of labour which was thus imposed upon them. He approved of earlier sittings. Perhaps, the best plan that could be adopted would be, for the House, at the beginning of the Session, to devote three whole solid days a week to public business, and three other days a week to public Committees. This, however, was matter for future consideration; but, in the meantime, as they must make a beginning, and as common sense and the public convenience were both in favour of earlier hours, he thought they could not do better than adopt this Resolution, which he was ready to alter according to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, if that alteration met the views of the House.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

agreed with the hon. Member for Middlesex that private business, and even questions as to the establishment of railroads, might with great propriety be intrusted to some subordinate authority—perhaps with the safeguard of an appeal to a Committee of that House. It might be referred to the Justices at Quarter Sessions, or to a delegation from the Justices of several counties (arrondissements), five or six for England and two or three for Ireland and Scotland; and this would leave the House at liberty to attend to the more important functions of legislation. At present they were so overpowered with business that four-fifths of it was done in a very hurried and inefficient manner.

Dr. Bowring

said, the attention of the House was distracted from the consideration of its more urgent business by the vast variety of claims upon it. He had witnessed the proceedings of more representative bodies than most individuals of that House, and he could say that that was the only representative body that did not make all other concerns subordinate to the great public interests intrusted to their care. The public service would gain very much if they gave to the public interests the hours of the day instead of the weary and exhausting hours of the night. It became them to take some measures for the furtherance of the public business; and he trusted that the House would give attention to the proposal of his hon. Friend; and sure he was, that unless the period arrived in which the day should be given to the great concerns of the nation, those concerns could not be properly attended to.

Mr. O'Connell's Amendment was negatived without a division, and the House divided on the original Motion.

The gallery was then cleared for a division, when there appeared: Ayes 51; Noes 233; Majority 182,

List of the AYES.
Atcherley, D. F. Lister, E. C.
Attwood, Thomas Maher, J.
Bagshaw, J. Moles worth, Sir W.
Baldwin, Dr. Musgrave, Sir R.
Barnard, E. G. O'Brien, W. S
Barry, G. S. O'Connell, M.
Bish, T. O'Connell, S.
Bodkin, J. J. O'Connell, M.
Bowring, Dr. O'Connell, M. J.
Brady, D. C. Palmer, General
Brotherton, J. Potter, R.
Butler, Col. Roche, W.
Callaghan, D. Bundle, J.
Crawford, W. S. Sinclair, Sir G.
Edwards, Col. Strickland, Sir G.
Elphinstone, H. Tancred, H. W.
Fielden, J. Thorneley, T.
Fitzsimon, C. Tulk, C. A.
Gillon, W. D. Turner, W.
Grate, G. Wakley, T.
Hardy, J. Wason, R.
Heathcoat, J. Wilks, J.
Hector, C. J. Williams, W. A.
Hindley, C. TELLERS.
Hume, J. W. Ewart.
Lennard, T. B. D. O'Connell.
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