HC Deb 15 June 1840 vol 54 cc1169-75
Lord John Russell

said, that he should now have taken the ordinary course of moving the order of the day, had not the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, stated on the evening of Thursday last, that he should move the consideration of the Irish Registration Bill on this day, in preference to any measure or any bill the consideration of which might be moved by a Member of the Government. He thought that that statement rendered it necessary for him to trouble the House with a few words in explanation of the reasons which had induced him to take the usual course on the present occasion. He believed that the course which the noble Lord proposed to take was entirely unusual. For his own part, he considered, that it was a useful mode of transacting public business, that on certain days of the week, the measures of Government, on the proposition of some Member of Government, generally of the Member who occupied the station which he had then the honour to occupy, should be taken into consideration previously to any other; and he knew from experience that that mode was generally acquiesced in by all parties in the House. He believed that it had been the usual course, and he was certain that it was the most convenient, because those measures which were then brought forward by the Government were measures which did not belong to this or that Administration in office, but were measures which were necessary to promote the business of the country, and which any Minister intrusted with the confidence of the Crown would be compelled to bring forward and carry through to a conclusion. The noble Lord, however, now thought proper to propose a different course. He had declared his intention of setting aside the usual prac- tice of this House, by substituting a proposition of his own for the orders of this day. He submitted to the House, that this was a mode of proceeding unusual, inconvenient, violent, he should say, and certainly not Conservative. If such a precedent should obtain, if the course of their proceedings were to be thus interrupted by the motions of individuals belonging to the party of the Opposition, no surer mode could be devised for embarrassing, he would not say this Government, but any Government, which was intrusted with the confidence of the Crown for the purpose of carrying on the business of the nation. He therefore thought it right to declare frankly at once, that he should persist in moving the Order of the Day, and that he should resist any motion for substituting the consideration of any other measure for those of the Government which now formed part of the Order of the Day. He had seriously considered this to be his duty to the House, having reference at the same time to the votes of the House on the recent divisions. The noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, had brought in his bill without a division. It was carried on the second reading by a division. After another division, the House agreed that the bill should go into Committee; and, lastly, when his hon. Friend, the Member for Halifax, with perfect fairness, and, as he thought, upon very just grounds, moved, that the Registration Bill for England, should be considered before the Registration Bill for Ireland, the House decided in favour of first considering the latter bill. He saw that there were some intimations of doubt as to the fairness of the course pursued by his hon. Friend, the Member for Halifax. He therefore declared again, that his belief was, that the intention of his hon. Friend was perfectly fair towards the House and towards the measure in question; and he could say for himself, that though he had waved what he thought would be the most expedient course of proceeding in deference to the declared will of the House, he had supported his hon. Friend's plan in perfect fairness, thinking that it would be better that in the consideration of this important subject, the English Registration Bill should have precedence of that which related to Ireland. The House upon that occasion came to a different conclusion, and he was therefore, compelled to con- sider the circumstances in which they were placed. He had intended, and he had stated his intention to his hon. Friend, the Member for Halifax—he had intended, he said, in case his hon. Friend had succeeded in carrying his amendment, to have proceeded with the English Registration Bill; and if he had carried the second reading of it, he should have proposed that the House resolve itself into Committee upon it on Thursday. The House having decided in favour of considering the Irish Registration Bill first, he thought that it was but fair, that that bill should be placed in the same position in which he had intended to place his own bill. He should, therefore, propose, that the bill of the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, should be placed in the same position in which the English Registration Bill would have been placed, had the second reading of it been carried. He had already told the House, that he had intended to fix the Committee on his own bill for Thursday next. That was the earliest open day; but, as the Irish Registration Bill was the noble Lord's bill, and not his, if Friday next would suit the noble Lord s convenience better than Thursday, or even if Monday next would suit him still better, he should be ready to grant the noble Lord precedence for his bill on either of those days. In making this offer, he wished to have it understood, that whenever that day came, he should be ready to go at once into discussion of the bill in Committee. He had voted against an instruction being given to the Committee, and if the noble Lord should agree to take either of the days now proposed, he should in the event of an instruction, vote against it again. It was for the noble Lord to take his own course. The proposition he now made, he thought, was a fair one, but if the noble Lord should not adopt it, but persist in his determination to thwart and obstruct the business of the country, by forcing on his bill to-night, in preference to the prior business on the orders, he should meet the motion of the noble Lord by moving the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Clergy Reserves (Canada) Bill.

Lord Stanley

With regard to the course which has been taken upon this bill, whatever may be the character of violence which has marked the discussions upon it, I trust that the House will do me the justice to say, that there has been nothing of violence to characterize the manner in which I have endeavoured to conduct it. That the course which I have proposed to pursue is unusual, I am ready to admit. I am ready to admit to the noble Lord opposite, that in ordinary circumstances, and upon ordinary occasions, the usual course to which he has adverted is convenient for the discharge of public business. I am also ready to admit, that it is on every account desirable that the person, whoever he may happen to be, who stands in the situation of the noble Lord, and who has to conduct, on the part of the Crown, the business of the country in this House, should have the power to select on the day appointed for the consideration of Government business, that portion of the Orders of the Day which is most indispensable for the due transaction of public affairs. But are not the circumstances—I ask the House with confidence—are not the circumstances unusual in which I am placed? And when I say, the circumstances in which I am placed, let me disclaim personally, for myself, the imputation that I was vain enough to suppose that I could offer any personal claim for having the measure which I had proposed taken in preference to any other measures which had been submitted to the House. But are not, I say, the circumstances unusual in which, not I, but the House, has been placed, with respect to this measure, for the Registration of voters in Ireland? Are the circumstances usual, that three times in one Session, on a single bill, the utmost efforts of the Government should be defeated, and yet that against the expressed sense of the majority of the House thus expressed, the Government, still representing itself as a Government conducting the affairs of the country, should not only not abstain from opposition to a measure so decisively supported by the House, but should also put the individual Member who had undertaken to conduct its progress through the House on his extreme right of gaining one of those three days in each week, which are left open to him by the other business of the House? If the course which I am pursuing is unusual, the circumstances which compel me to take that course are not only unusual but unprecedented. But, even if it be unusual, my course is neither unconstitutional nor un-Parliamentary. It is a legitimate course, in which not thwarting or obstructing the public business, as the noble Lord unjustly insinuates, but giving the House an opportunity of deciding what public business is most essential to be transacted first, I raise, in a perfectly Parliamentary way, the question now at issue between myself and her Majesty's Government. There is no claim of right, there is only a claim of courtesy and expediency, to the Order of the Day now made by the Government. There is, I repeat, no claim of right; and if it be considered a question of courtesy, I must be excused for saying, that I never recollect a case in which one side of the House had less right to appeal to the other in point of courtesy. Moreover, the course which I gave notice that it was my intention to pursue is strictly Parliamentary, and in strict accordance with the standing orders of the House, agreed to at the commencement of every Session. There was a time, and that not very long ago, when much practical inconvenience resulted, and when the public business was really thwarted and obstructed by substantive motions which had no connexion with the Orders of the Day, being brought forward as amendments upon them. And how was that practical inconvenience met? What was the remedy applied to it, and how was that remedy limited? Three years ago an order was made, which we have since repeated every year, that on the Order of the Day being read, one amendment, and one amendment only, should be moved upon it, that amendment being either that the other Orders of the Day be now read, or that some particular Order of the Day should be taken into consideration, not to thwart or obstruct public business, but to give the House the means of deciding to which Order of the Day it would give the preference. So far, then, from this course of mine being either violent, unparliamentary, or unconstitutional, I assert that it is the course expressly pointed out by the orders of the House, as the only course which any hon. Member, unconnected with the Government, has of bringing measures fairly under the consideration of the House, when supported in opposition to the Government, by a considerable majority. I have but one object in view in this course, a plain, a simple, intelligible, and, as I think, a reasonable object; which is, that the measure which I have introduced should undergo a full, fair, and deliberate investigation and canvass into its details. And I must do my utmost to obtain for that measure that full, fair, and deliberate investigation; I must hot have it pushed off from day to day, and from week to week, by the moving of one instruction and one amendment after another, especially after the House has solemnly affirmed its principle on the second reading, whenever it is proposed that the Speaker do leave the chair, for the purpose of the House resolving itself into Committee. My only wish is, that the bill should be properly discussed and passed, if it meet the approbation of the House. Further than that I have no wish to go—further than that if I should go, I should be placing myself, as I trust that I have not yet placed myself, in the wrong before the House. If, after the division on Thursday, the noble Lord—but I will not remind the House of the obstructions which this measure has met with in the course of its progress—but if, after the division on Thursday night, when the House decided that the question of the Irish registration was the most important and most pressing,—when it declared that it was a question which must be dealt with in the present Session—when it decided against the amendment of the hon. Member for Halifax, and declared that the measure for the amendment of the English registration should not precede the measure for dealing with the abuses of the Irish registration—if the noble Lord had then got up and told me that on Monday the business was pressing and important, but that my motion should be discussed on the next vacant day, at once and without a moment's hesitation I should have been satisfied and have given way. But did the noble Lord give me any such assurance? Did the noble Lord let fall the slightest hint that I should get the smallest facility in bringing under discussion a bill which has been so long and so unaccountably delayed? Quite the reverse. Another notice of a motion to obstruct the bill was given by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin,—a motion, too, which had been again and again defeated. Under such circumstances I should have allowed both the bill and the House to be trifled with had I not stood upon my extreme right, and said that this bill shall not be shelved, shall not be put off from day to day, but shall be fairly, fully, and dispassionately tried. Even now, if the noble Lord opposite will fix an open and an early day for the discussion, my object will be answered, provided the noble Lord will promise to discountenance any vexatious obstructions, and not afford them a passive acquiescence. Perhaps Thursday, for many reasons, would be an inconvenient day, but I shall be perfectly content with any other early day which the noble Lord might fix. When I receive from the noble Lord the assurance that the bill shall come on, I will withdraw my motion, my object being fairly and completely answered. I shall leave it to the noble Lord to state whether on Friday or Monday next the discussion of this bill in Committee will be least inconvenient to the business of the country. I shall be perfectly satisfied with either day; for I want nothing but fair and temperate discussion. I shall be ready to consider suggestions from either side of the House, and ready to make such concessions as may meet the general sense of the House, but I must express my determination to do my utmost to carry through a bill which I believe to be essential to the welfare of the country.

Order for the Committee fixed for the ensuing Friday.

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