HC Deb 21 November 1837 vol 39 cc125-31
Mr. Brotherton

believed it would be generally admitted that it would be very salutary both for the health of the Members themselves, and for the efficient discharge of the public business, that some limit should be put to the hours at night, or rather morning, to which the debates of this House should be protracted. He believed there was no other country in the world, whether in Europe or in America, which transacted the business of the public at night. Even in this country it was the practice formerly to meet as early as eight o'clock in the morning and he found an order on the journals declaring that the House should not continue to sit after six in the evening. The object of the motion which he was now about to propose was, that the House should not on general occasions sit much after twelve o'clock at night. To effect this he proposed that when any new motion was brought forward after twelve o'clock, if any five Members were to rise in their places and object to going on with it, the Speaker should have the power to postpone the subject and proceed at once to the other orders of the day. This proposition would not be open to the objection which was urged against an unconditional adjournment of the House at a certain hour, a proceeding which he admitted would, in many cases, produce much inconvenience. He did not wish to give one individual the power to inconvenience the House, and impede public business, by adjourning the House on all occasions, but he thought that when any new motion was being brought forward after twelve o'clock at night, if a certain number of Gentlemen objected to entering on the subject at such an hour, it should be postponed, and the other business of the House gone into. Having made these few observations, he would conclude by reading his motion:—"That it being desirable, except in particular cases, that the sittings of this House should not be continued after midnight, resolved, that when any motion is brought on after twelve o'clock at night, and a Member rises to speak to order, and moves that the further debate on such question be adjourned to a future day, such motion being supported by four other Members rising in their places, Mr. Speaker shall immediately declare the debate adjourned without putting the question to the House, and proceed to the other orders of the day."

Mr. Hindley

seconded the motion, and said that, with the leave of the House, he would adduce an authority in favour of it. In the second report of the Poor-law Commissioners it was stated that much inconvenience had arisen from the evening sittings of parish boards, and that since the practice had been altered, and early meetings had been enforced, much advantage had resulted. Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but he knew that the reports of the Poor-law Commissioners were esteemed high authority by many hon. Gentlemen; and he, therefore, hoped the statement which he had made from that source would have its due weigh ton the present occasion. The right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire had frequently admitted that owing to late sittings many Bills had slipped through Parliament without the investigation which their importance deserved, and this, as well as the general inconvenience which resulted from it, induced him to give his support to the proposition of his hon. Friend, the Member for Salford.

Mr. Goulburn

regretted that there was no Member of the Government present to deliver any opinion on the subject which the hon. Member for Salford had brought under consideration. It was, however, a matter in which every Member of that House was interested; and for his own part he had no hesitation in saying that, instead of adopting the proposition of the hon. Member for Salford, he would prefer adhering to old rules and long practice. But what was the alteration which the motion of the bon. Gentleman proposed? Why, that any Member of that House should be at liberty to rise to order, and then not to speak to order, but to make a motion for the postponement of another question. This, he must say, was directly the contrary of that which had always been the practice of that House. If such a proposition were adopted all he could say was, that the fair discussion of every question might at any time be prevented. No doubt the hon. Member for Salford in bringing forward his motion had the health of the Members in view; but, instead of attempting to make new rules, he thought it would be far better to leave the matter as it stood, and trust wholly to the feeling and good sense of the House. They must all be aware, at least all those who had any experience in Parliament must know, that there were periods of the session when it was indispensable that much of the public business should be transacted after twelve o'clock. Unless this could be done, it was obvious that many important matters must stand still from week to week, to the great inconvenience of the parties concerned, if not to the public service; and yet, with this fact before them, they were called upon to concur in a motion by which, if any one Member wishing for the postponement of a given subject was supported by four other hon. Members, the Speaker would be compelled to declare the question adjourned to a future day. He certainly was averse to the motion, and therefore, hoped the hon. Member for Salford would consent to withdraw it.

Mr. Potter

suggested, that the motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Salford, contained an exception which would prevent the possibility of inconvenience arising from it.

Mr. Pease

said, that his Parliamentary experience convinced him that the pro- posed regulation would be impracticable, and he was therefore opposed to laying down any general rule.

Mr. Wakley

said, that in his opinion the hon. Member for Salford proposed to extend their sittings five hours too late. They should adjourn at seven instead of twelve: and they ought to begin business at an earlier hour of the day to enable them to do so. In ancient times eight o'clock in the morning used to be the hour of meeting. This was the case two hundred years ago—quite a modern date for Gentlemen who were enamoured of ancient institutions. He should be glad to have the opinion of the Speaker, after his long experience of the course of nocturnal depredations carried on here on the pockets of the people, whether so injurious a system should not be altered The fact unfortunately was, that out of the 658 Members of which this House was composed there were some 400 or 500 loungers, who just looked in late at night to see what was going on, and then went back to their friends or their clubs. This was not working faithfully for their constituents, whilst those who did their duty to their constituents by regular and constant attendance were injuring their own health by their protracted sittings, and after all not doing the business of the country so well as if they met earlier and went away sooner. What was to prevent them from meeting at ten o'clock in the day? It might be said that there were many Gentlemen in the House whose professional avocations would not allow them to come at that hour. Then he would say, that such men had no business to be Members of Parliament. The representatives of the people should not come here to do the public business when they were worn out by their own private business of the day or excited by the convivialities of the evening. He had seen many hon. Members come in at eleven o'clock, and he grieved to say it, excited to a considerable degree in this manner, and then immediately proceed to give vent to their impatience by all sorts of disagreeable noises, as laughing, hissing, groaning, and so forth; and this was really what was no longer to be tolerated in a place of this kind. He really hoped that something would be done before long to remedy this notorious and growing evil.

Mr. Warburton

said, that many of the most important debates in that House were, in form, debates upon Amendments on Motions. Now, in the case where an Amendment of this kind was disposed of a few minutes before twelve o'clock, it would be in the power of any five Members of the House, if this motion were agreed to, to postpone the division on the main question, which in fact then became a new motion, but which was the very point to which they had been debating all the evening. Thus would the whole object of their meeting be defeated, and they would have to go over the whole matter again. Even, therefore, if he approved generally of the proposition to give any five Members the power to prevent the introduction of a new motion after twelve o'clock, which he would not say he did agree to, such a proposition would never be agreed to in the form in which it was now put to the House.

Mr. Shaw

put it to the House whether any Government could carry on the business of the country if such a proposition as that now before them were to be acted upon. He would ask, was it not possible that there should always be five Members who, in order to thwart the proceedings of Government, would come down night after night, and rise in opposition to every stage of every Bill, and every matter of business, which might be moved after twelve o'clock? If the hon. Member for Salford were desirous of restricting the sittings of the House to twelve o'clock, let him submit a proposition to that effect fairly to the consideration of the House, and not attempt to accomplish it by so clumsy an expedient as the present.

Mr. R. Steuart

said, that although the motion excepted particular cases, the hon. Member had omitted to state what were the particular cases in which the rule was to be omitted. Again, as the right hon. Gentleman the Recorder for Dublin, had said, there might be five Members who might wish to arrest the business, and what was to prevent them from rising upon each order of the day to move an adjournment upon each order of the day? Thus bills, which were waiting for a third reading, and which had not been opposed in their former stages, might lay over from week to week to the serious inconvenience of the public service. There were many objections which, he hoped, would induce the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his motion, even if he were to renew it.

Mr. Williams Wynn

felt the strongest objection to the motion, which would enable five Members to dictate to the House. There might be five Members who might say, "We think the ballot ought to be granted, and until the House agrees to it we will move adjournments from day to day." He was putting an extreme case, but the mere possibility ought to dissuade the House from adopting the proposition.

Mr. Francis Baring

observed, that from the situation which he had the honour to hold, and the nature of the business he had to conduct, the carrying of the present motion would as a matter of personal convenience be greater to him than any other hon. Member in that House; at the same time he must say, that he could not conceive any motion more calculated to impede the progress of the public business than the one now proposed for adoption by the hon. Member for Salford. No doubt it was desirable that public business should not be proceeded with after twelve o'clock; but was it not likely, if five hon. Members were to have it in their power to move the adjournment of a question, and that the House was then to proceed according to the words of the motion of the hon. Member for Salford, was it not possible, nay, very probable, that five other hon. Gentlemen might go on to take a similar objection to the next order on the paper, and the whole of the remaining orders of the day might be postponed by this course of proceeding to the great detriment of parties, and to the serious delay of the business of the House? He trusted after what had passed, that the hon. Member for Salford would not persevere in his motion, but rest satisfied with following a similar course to that which was pursued in the last Session.

Mr. S. O'Brien

trusted the hon. Member would not consent to withdraw his Motion. He thought, however, some modification in the wording of the resolution was necessary, in order to meet the objection of the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton,) that the previous subject under debate should not be affected by the resolution.

Mr. Brotherton

replied. His motion was framed with the view of preventing business of importance only from being discussed after twelve o'clock. He was really surprised that the Members of that House should be paid so bad a compliment as to suppose that any five of them could be found to adjourn the House without just cause. He had drawn up his motion in such terms as would meet the objections which had been urged by those who now deserted him. He despaired of being able to draw up a motion which would be agreeable to all hon. Members, and he should, therefore, take the sense of the House on the principle that no public business of consequence should be transacted after twelve o'clock.

The House divided—Ayes 26; Noes 76: Majority 50.

List of the AYES.
Briscoe, J. I. Morris, D.
Busfield, W. O'Brien, C.
Collins, W. O'Brien, W. S.
Duke, Sir J. Potter, R.
Fielden, J. Stewart, James
Gillon, W. D. Turner, Edmund
Godson, R. Turner, William
Guest, J. J. Wakley, T.
Heathcote, J White, Andrew
Hume, J. Williams, W.
Johnston, General Yates, John A.
Kinnaird, hon. A. F.
Leader, J. T. TELLERS.
Lister, E. C. Brotherton, J.
Marsland, Henry Hindley, C.
List of the NOES.
Acland, T. D. Halse, James
Aglionby, H. A. Hay, Sir A. L.
Baines, E. Hayter, W.
Barrington, Visct. Heathcote, Sir W.
Bateman, John Heathcote, G. J.
Beamish, Francis B. Hodgson, Richard
Berkeley, hon. F. Hope, George W.
Blennerhassett, A. Horsman, E.
Bowes, J. Howard Ralph
Broadley, Henry Hughes, W. B.
Bruges, W. H. L. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Jones, Wilson
Burr, Daniel H. D. Litton, Edward
Chaplain, Colonel Lushington, C.
Creswell, Creswell Mackenzie, W. F.
Darby, George Mordaunt, Sir John
Douglas, Sir C. E. Neeld, Joseph
Dowdeswell, W. O'Callaghan, hon. C.
Dundas, Frederick Parker, Robert T.
Easthorpe, John Pease, Joseph
Estcourt, T. Pendarves, E. W. W.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Perceval Col.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Pinney, William
Fitzroy, Lord C. Plumptre, John P.
Fitzroy, hon. Henry Rae, rt. hn. Sir W.
Foley, Edward T. Rice, E. R.
Forrester, hon. G. Salwey, Colonel
Fort, J. Sandon, Visct.
Fremantle, Sir T. Seymour, Lord
French, Fitzstephen Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Gladstone, W. E. Shirley, Evelyn J.
Goulburn, Rt. hn. H. Speirs, A.
Grimsditch, Thomas Stansfield, W. R. C.
Strutt, Edward Wyndham, Wadham
Thornley, T. Wynn, rt. hn. C. W.
Vere, Sir C. B. Young, John
Wallace, Robert TELLERS.
Warburton, Henry Baring, E.
Wilberforce, William Steuart, R.