HC Deb 18 February 1836 vol 31 cc562-5
Mr. Ward

stated that he rose to propose a number of resolutions respecting divisions in the House, which were founded on the report of the Select Committee which sat on the subject last year. The object was, the giving publicity to the names of the Members who voted in each division. He thought, as well for the sake of themselves as for their constituents, that hon. Members should be prepared to give an account of their stewardship, and to let the public know how they voted on each occasion. Undoubtedly, the most important part of the business of a Member of that House was voting in conformity with the wishes of those who had sent him to represent them. Every hon. Gentleman who heard him was aware that he was subject to the tribunal of public opinion, and each should be prepared to bow to it. What had recently been allowed to be done with reference to the debates, ought equally to be permitted in the case of divisions. Lists were now published of the persons who voted, but these were constantly found to contain inaccuracies, and all that was wished was, to cambine with the accuracy of the debates the accuracy of the account of the divisions. One could not be perfect without the other. It was not sufficient for a constituency to know how their representative spoke, but they should also be aware how he voted. The report of the Committee was presented last year, and it suggested a plan of taking divisions by means of double nominees and clerks, and that a second lobby should be built. At the suggestion, however, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the matter was postponed until this year, as the lobby could not be then conveniently built. The second lobby, however, was now erected, and it was only for the House to carry out their own resolutions, and adopt the mode of division recommended by the Committee, and sanctioned by the House last year. The first resolution that he had to propose was, that on any division the House should be entirely cleared, and that the ayes and noes should be sent into different lobbies. The second resolution was, that four tellers should be nominated in each division, and that they should be attended by four clerks; that two of each should take their places at the door of each lobby, and that the doors should be simultaneously opened, and that the numbers should "be counted, and that the names of the Members should be taken down by the clerks. The lists should then be taken up to the Table, and that the Speaker should direct an alphabetical list of the Members voting to be prepared, which should be inserted in the votes. Such were the resolutions of last year; but he would suggest a slight alteration in one of them, namely, that in each division the name of the Members who voted should be marked in a printed list of Members which had been prepared in an alphabetical form. He had done this in consequence of having seen a table which had been drawn at the suggestion of the Speaker. This mode of proceeding might afford greater facility of taking the lists than writing the names down; but he should propose that either of these modes might be adopted. He thought that the plan was sufficiently plain and feasible for the adoption of the House, and he trusted that all sides would agree to give it a fair trial. Everybody was aware of the inaccuracies that were to be met with in the list of every division that was now given in the newspapers; and by the plan he proposed, he was satisfied that an accurate list of names would be furnished. In the list of the majority of last night, in the first division, there were not less than fifty-seven omissions, and the hon. Member for Exeter was described as voting on both sides. In the division on the Address, the names of three Members were omitted, who, at great personal inconvenience, had hastened from the north of Scotland to be present on the occasion. Another case had recently occurred, of a very remarkable nature, to an hon. and gallant Friend of his. He had been accused on the hustings of voting against the Impressments Bill. He was satisfied in his own mind that he had not done so, and contradicted it, but not less than eleven lists of the division were produced to prove that he did. His veracity was impeached, and discredit was thrown on him; but it appeared on inquiry that all the lists had been copied from one in which there was an inaccuracy. This was a point affecting every man in the House who wished to stand well with his constituents. The hon. and learned Gentleman proposed the resolutions.

Lord John Russell

thought that the best argument which had been used for the adoption of the plan was the erection of the additional lobby. He was not aware that the lobby wag to have been built, and was not aware of its erection until he found it where it was. He trusted that the House would consent to try the experiment of the hon. Gentleman, at the same time he would not say that some inconvenience might not arise from it. He could not help feeling that there would be a material difference in point of time in taking the divisions. The division last night was 190 to thirty-six, and certainly in this case no great time would be consumed, but when a very large number of Members were present a material difference would be perceived. His hon. Friend urged that by adopting this course correct lists of the names of Members who voted in the divisions would be furnished. Certainly, as the habit prevailed of publishing lists of divisions, it was desirable that they should be accurate. His hon. Friend said inaccurate lists were constantly published in the newspapers, and that Members had to write to correct those lists. It was one thing, however, to correct the lists in the newspapers, and another having to get up and complain to the House of errors in the votes, in the latter case of course it would be necessary to search out where the error arose. As it appeared that the lobby was ready he could see no objection to make a trial of the resolution.

First Resolution agreed to.

On the second Resolution,

Sir Robert Peel

saw no objection to try the experiment, and if it was found that much time was consumed in divisions, he had no doubt that the House would feel disposed to return to the old system. If the new plan did not occupy much time, the House would act upon it. It would be necessary by this plan, however, to have four clerks in constant attendance, and they might pass eight or ten days without having one division, therefore the expense of it would not be inconsiderable.

Mr. Grote

was glad that the right hon. Baronet was disposed to give the plan a fair trial, as he had no doubt of its success. He did not suppose that it could be carried into effect without some additional time, but certainly it would not be of any considerable duration. He objected to intrusting discretionary power to any man, but he thought in this case no great evil could result from leaving it to the Speaker.

Sir Robert Inglis

stated that the plan had been tried, as appeared from the Journals, in 1834, when it was found that names had been inserted by mistake.

Mr. Warburton

said, that the plan alluded to by the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford, was essentially different from that now proposed. If a clerk should not be present at the time of a division, it would be easy for a Member to take his place

Colonel Thompson

suggested that much time might be saved in, divisions if the lobbies were on the sides of the House, and there were several doors into them from the House. When all the Members had got into the lobbies, all the doors with the exception of one should be shut, through which the Members could return into the House.

Sir John Hobhouse

remarked that at present a Member might always excuse himself to his constituents for his voting, and impute it to the mistakes of newspapers. If errors should occur in the proposed system, it would be easy to correct them in the votes on the following day. He did not think that so much evil arose from a single error in a list of a division as hon. Gentlemen supposed, as constituents would generally form an estimate of their representative from the general tenor of a Member's votes.

Mr. Hume

expressed his surprise at the tone of the hon. Baronet's observations. As to the proposed plan there could be no doubt of its superiority to the present system.

The Motion was agreed to.