HC Deb 26 April 1838 vol 42 cc597-605
Lord John Russell

rose to move, that for one month from and after the 14th of May, an additional day in the week should be appropriated to Orders of the Day. It was a matter of considerable consequence, that both Houses of Parliament should have full time to consider the various measures that were brought before them; and it was very desirable, that when measures of great importance were under discussion, a full attendance of the Members of either House should be insured. This very desirable object had been defeated, to some extent, for several years past, owing to the lateness of the period at which measures of the very greatest importance had been sent up to the other House. It was well known, that in the earlier part of the Session, several of the motions which stood on the votes, were preparatory to bringing in bills. If those bills were then introduced, they afterwards became included amongst the Orders of the Day; but if the motions for bringing in such bills were rejected, there was an end to all legislation on such subjects for the current Session. He thought, therefore, that at a period of the Session like the present, the occasion for notices of motion was proportionably diminished, and that there would no inconvenience result from adopting the motion which he had now to make. Besides the Government bills, there were several bills brought in by individual Members, upon subjects of great importance, and of which he thought it extremely desirable that they should be discussed in the presence of a full House. He should, therefore, conclude by moving, that for one month, from and after the 14th of May next, Orders of the Day should have precedence on Thursdays.

Mr. Williams

said, that the proposed arrangement would interfere with a subject of great importance which he had on the papers.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that the proposition of the noble Lord seemed to him to involve considerations of very great importance—it was commencing at the middle of a Session, and when Gentlemen were most assiduous and regular in their attendance on their duties in that House, to interpose and procure for the Government a larger portion of precedence than any other Government ever had enjoyed. The notice days, as he had always considered them, and according to what he thought was the constitutional mode of viewing them, gave opportunities to private Members of Parliament to question the acts of Government, and to bring forward anything to which they thought fit to call the attention of the House. This was his view, but he must say, that the motion of the noble Lord had a direct tendency to prevent any Gentleman who might have to call the attention of the House to any grievance, or any matter of interest to his constituents, or to any class of the community, or to the public generally, not, it was true, from bringing it forward at all, but from bringing it forward in due time; he repeated, if the motion were agreed to, its tendency would be, to postpone bringing on questions of such a nature, until a period when the grievance respecting which notice of motion had been given, would be totally past remedy. He was quite aware that, towards the close of a Session, this practice had frequently obtained, and it might then be right or not, but the motion of the noble Lord came too early, when they were in the very heat of the Session, and when, as he had said, Members were most numerous and assiduous in their attendance. There might be, as he believed there was, much business on the books of the House; but why this mode of remedy? Parliament had now been sitting since November, and he would say, that if Government had used due diligence, they would have been able to bring forward, at an earlier period of the Session, those measures which yet remained for consideration. They were arrived almost at the beginning of May, yet no financial statement had been made on the part of the Government; and very few even of the estimates had passed; and he thought it was too much that Government should come down seeking a remedy for the existing state of things in this motion, instead of having begun, as it was their duty to have done, at the beginning of the Session, to bring forward the important business of the country.

Sir J. Graham

begged to submit to the House, that this motion would interfere with the notice of motion which he had placed on the book, respecting a subject to which he was most anxious to call the attention of the House—he meant the proceedings at the late and preceding Roxburghshire elections, as transactions had taken place there, which it seemed to him especially necessary should be brought under the consideration of the House. He entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend, the Member for the University of Cambridge in what had fallen from him respecting the character of this attempt on the part of Government, at engrossing to themselves those opportunities which independent Members had hitherto enjoyed of bringing forward questions of importance; and he must say, that he hoped it would not be submitted to by the House. He would not wish to look at this question with reference to his own side of the House merely, but he would appeal to the hon. Member for Kilkenny, and all hon. Members on the other side, who were unconnected with Government, whether this was a fitting, proper, or even convenient course? He hoped, therefore, that the noble Lord would reconsider his proposition, and not attempt, thus early, to amend a regulation of the House, which had passed no longer ago than the early part of the Session; but more especially since, as the noble Lord had stated, Government would only gain three days by the change, he did hope that they would not seek to impose additional restrictions on a regulation which was already very strict.

Colonel Davies

said, that the delay in proceeding with Government Bills proceeded in some measure from the motions relative to foreign affairs and to Lord Durham's mission, which had occupied the time of the House. Of this, however, he was far from complaining, as it was undoubtedly the right of Members to bring forward motions condemning the policy of which they disapproved, and it tended to the interest of the country, that these motions should be brought forward. He thought, however, that in the present state of the public business, unless hon. Members were prepared to sit till August or September, they must be prepared to give up the day, as suggested by the noble Lord.

Lord John Russell

could do no more, in answer to the two right hon. Gentlemen who had spoken on the opposite side, than to repeat what he had said on introducing the motion—that complaints had been made in the other House of Parliament, that measures came up to them for consideration at a period of the Session, when Members of neither House were in sufficiently numerous attendance to give opportunity for a due consideration of such measures, and therefore measures of great importance were not rejected on the ground of their merits, but postponed to another year, in order to get time for further consideration. Now, he must say he thought that if this were true, the House of Commons were bound to remove this ground of objection; and if, on the other hand, any persons made this an excuse to get rid of measures which they did not like, then the House had equal reason to take measures to do away with that excuse. He wished, that it might no longer be said, that Government brought forward measures to which there was no time for giving due consideration. With respect to what had been said of the negligence of Government in not bringing forward important public measures at an early period of the Session, he wished it to be considered that in the year before last, the great questions of Municipal Corporations, and tithes had been considered in that House, and bills sent up to the other House, where they were rejected, it being understood, that both Houses were ready to reconsider those measures. This was the case in the year before last, and last year those measures had again come before them, with the addition of the Poor Relief Bill for Ireland; he therefore considered, that in the present year, they had in that House a very great and unusual accumulation of business. But what had they gone through in the former part of the Session? Why, first they had the settlement of the civil list; then they had the measures arising out of the very important affairs of the insurrection in Canada; they had lately a bill for amendment of the act of abolition of slavery, and pointing out and supplying the means by which it was to be carried into effect; they had had this business, he wished it to be remarked, in the present Session in addition to the measures on which they had before legislated. Then the Irish Poor Relief Bill had received a very full discussion and consideration, having occupied five or six weeks; then some progress had been made in the Tithes (Ireland) Bill, and the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill, the Pluralities, and Clergy Residences Bills, the Benefices in Cathedrals Bill, in various measures for the better administration of justice, and in other measures of very great importance which were before the House. Looking at these circumstances, he did not think the Government could be said to have delayed the conduct of any important business, and he must say, also, that Members in general had this Session, paid very great attention to the business of the House. The proposition he had made, he considered to be one which would prove a very important benefit, if it enabled them to send up to the House of Lords the great measures to which he had referred at a period when that House would have June and July for the consideration of them. If the House agreed to the motion, it was likely, he thought, that the measures he had mentioned, might be passed this Session; if they did not agree to it, then Government ought not to be accused of not proceeding with them rapidly enough.

Mr. Hume

said, the consequence of agreeing to this motion would be, that the Government would give notice, and probably bring on nothing. If the noble Lord would give notice, and on doing so, pledge himself to bring forward his motion on the day fixed, then he would support the motion, for there were several measures of Government, which he was very anxious to see proceeded with. But if the noble Lord would not give him this pledge, then he must vote against the motion, as he thought that there was very much in the objection which had been urged by the right hon. Gentleman opposite against Government's engrossing all the time to themselves, and preventing individuals from bringing forward questions of importance to their constituents or the public at large.

Mr. Sheil

observed, that there was one consideration which was not, in his opinion, an unimportant one, and which would probably induce the House to accede to the noble Lord's proposition. It had been stated in another place, the House of Lords, that the Irish Corporation Bill, the Irish Tithe Bill, and the Irish Poor-law Bill, would be by them considered as parts of one measure, and that the Irish Corporation Bill would not be passed unless the other bills were laid before them at the same time. It followed, therefore, that if they sent up only one of those measures, the Lords would come to the resolution which they had already announced, of postponing it till the other two reached them. It was necessary, therefore, that the three measures should go up together to the other House, and after they were disposed of there, and they should come back to this House, there would be ample time for their reconsideration. For this reason, if for no other, he would support the proposition of the noble Lord.

Sir Robert Peel

should give his vote against the proposition of the noble Lord. He was quite certain, that if the House sanctioned the precedent, sought to be laid down in this instance, they would be appealed to next year to pass a similar one. The noble Lord said, they had done nothing but considered bills, and that there never was a Session in which the business of legislation occupied so much of the attention of the House. He said,—See what important bills we have been consi- dering; the Canada Bill, the Slavery Amendment Bill, and the Irish Poor-law Bill. Now, considering that they had discussed these measures without any party spirit, he thought they ought to have some better reward than restricting them after the 14th of May next, to only one day for the discussion of other than Government measures. The noble Lord's proposition was an attempt to deprive independent Members of the House of the opportunity of bringing forward and canvassing measures on the only two days left open to them. For at the commencement of the Session, the Government had imposed a new restriction before that time unknown upon independent Members of the House, by not allowing them to occupy the notice-book more than fourteen days. In consequence of that restriction, limiting the giving of notices to a fortnight, it was altogether impossible to know the intentions of hon. Members from an inspection of the notice-book alone. Formerly, they might see the notice-book crowded with motions for days long distant. But now the case was different; and the Government, not content with having succeeded at the beginning of the Session in limiting the giving of notices to a day not more distant than a fortnight now came forward, and endeavoured to impose an additional restriction. He was quite sure, that the House would not have acquiesced in the first arrangement, if they had had any idea that it was to be followed up by the present proceeding. He could not avoid perceiving that there was a growing tendency to discourage the bringing forward of motions by independent Members. On the only night on which were usually brought forward, questions of the greatest interest, and the most paramount importance to the whole country, Government proposed to give their own business precedence, and to limit the right of full and free discussion. Considering that they had devoted themselves lately to the great business of legislation—considering that a restriction had been already imposed by her Majesty's Ministers upon the right of giving notices—considering, also, that every facility had been afforded to the Government, towards carrying on the public business, he must protest against the establishment of a precedent shutting out all discussion upon the policy of the Government. There was, as he before observed, a great tendency on the part of the Government to abridge the privilege of discussion enjoyed by independent Members of the House, and indeed the arguments made use of in support of the proposition applied with equal force to limiting discussion to only one day. If the learned Commissioner opposite, he begged pardon, he meant the hon. Member for Tipperary, thought the Corporation Bill, or the Tithe Bill was connected with the Poor-law Bill, perhaps, he would ask the noble Lord why they were not to be brought forward earlier than the 14th of May? The Tithe Bill was originally fixed for the 30th of April, but it was postponed at the desire of the noble Lord himself until the 14th of May. What was the cause? Hearing no indication of any such intention, and knowing no reason why the Session should be abruptly or prematurely terminated before the entire business of the country was disposed of, he (Sir Robert Peel) must protest against establishing a precedent which might be readily appealed to on a future occasion by a Government stronger than the present, and which was avowedly founded upon some imaginary necessity for despatch.

Lord John Russell

said, that with regard to the postponement of the Tithe Bill, which had been alluded to by the right hon. Baronet, he had only to say, that it appeared to him that when one measure had been for a long time under discussion, it was better to bring it to a close, than distract the attention by bringing forward other measures concurrently. Therefore it was, that he proposed the third reading of the Irish Poor-law Bill, on the day when Irish Members were likely to be present. There were at present only two days, Mondays and Fridays, on which the Government could bring forward measures. By measures, he meant not only bills, but also the supplies for the year. Considering the present state of the business of the House, he must say, that it was difficult to proceed satisfactorily with more than one or two measures at a time, unless an additional day were allowed. The right hon. Baronet opposite, (Sir Robert Peel) seemed to think, that the proposition for limiting notices of motions was an innovation, and that they formerly existed in great frequency and number. Now, when he sat at the opposite side of the House, he recollected that there were comparatively few notices of motions, and these were given not to embarrass the Government, or interrupt the progress of public business. If the proposition did not meet the wishes of the House, he would not press it. He must say, that the proposition not being pressed, and there being only the days allowed at present to the Government to bring forward measures, it must happen, that measures of the greatest importance could not pass the House before the latter end of July, and they would then be rejected in the other House on the former plea, that there was not sufficient time for consideration, thus creating arrears of business for the next Session, and making it a matter of triumph that the Government had not been able to carry their own measures.

Motion withdrawn.