HC Deb 05 July 1848 vol 100 cc131-7

considered that as this Bill (which came down from the House of Lords) had not yet been explained to the House, it would be necessary for him, in now moving that it be read a second time, to state in a few words the nature of the measure. It was notorious to the House, that the prorogation of Parliament put an end to every proceeding in either House of Parliament, and that, at whatever stage a measure might he when the prorogation took place, the whole of the stages of that measure must be gone through if it was again introduced in the subsequent Session of Parliament. They were also aware that, of late years, the greater portion of their business, and very frequently the most important, was postponed till a very late period of the Session—so late that, on many occasions, it was found necessary to drop important questions altogether; while the House of Lords either found it impossible to get through the Bills that came before them, or did so with a degree of rapidity that ought not to exist. In 1844 the number of Bills that were brought up to the Lords from the Commons were—in March, three; April, one; May, ten; June, nine; July, fifty-two; and, on the four last days on which the House sat, in August, twelve. In 1854 there were 155 Bills brought into the Commons; and 130 Acts of Parliament passed, of which 21 originated in the House of Lords, and 109 in the House of Commons. Of 91 Bills sent up from the Commons in 1845, and printed, excluding those which the Lords did not think of sufficient importance to print, there were sent up in February, one; in March, five; in April, twelve; in May, four; in June, nine; in July, fifty-nine; in August, one. So that of the Acts which were sent up to to the House of Lords in 1845, sixty-three, or nearly one-half, were so sent up within the last six weeks of the Session. In 1846, 149 Bills were brought into the Commons; of 117 Acts which were passed, 12 originated in the House of Lords, and 105 in the House of Commons; 79 were printed, and of those, 15 were sent up in July, and 36 in August. In those two months 51 Bills were, in all, sent to the House of Lords, and passed into law. In 1847,159 Bills were brought into the Commons; 115 Acts passed, of which 11 originated in the Lords, and 104 in the Commons; 7 were not printed. Of those Bills there were sent to the House of Lords in January, two Bills; in February, six; in March, seven; in April, ten; in May, fifteen; in all, forty Bills up to that period. In June there were brought up twenty-eight; in July, twenty-nine; being fifty-seven Bills sent up during those two months; forty-nine of which were passed within six weeks, and twenty-eight within three weeks, of the prorogation. It was plain that under these circumstances sufficient time was not left to the House of Lords for the consideration of those measures. If it were necessary to adduce futher proof of the evil which the present Bill proposed to remedy, it would be found in the statements which had been made in Parliament at different periods with respect to the state of public business. On the 20th of July, 1843, Sir R. Peel, after adverting to the number of Orders of the Day, proceeded to state, that though there were some which might pass without difficulty, there were others of great importance. Among these were the Arms (Ireland) Bill, the Scottish Church Bill, the Irish Poor Law, and the Exportation of Machinery Bill. He added— Of course it would be difficult for him to be aware what the progress of those Bills would be; but he thought it probable that they would occupy so much of the time of the House, that it would be difficult to expect full attention in that and the other House of Parliament to the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill. Her Majesty's Government were perfectly prepared, if there had been time, to proceed with that Bill; but they could not think that at this late period of the Session the Bill would receive the full consideration of the House of Lords, even if it should pass this House. For similar reasons it appeared the Factory Bill, the County Courts Bill, and the Small Debts Bill, were abandoned. The House was that year prorogued on the 24th of August. On the 1st of July, 1844, Sir R. Peel expressed his regret that "a vast mass of business still remained to be transacted;" and on the 7th of July, 1845, the right hon. Gentleman, again adverting to the state of public business, said— I regret to find, on a view of these measures, that several of those which yet remain to be discharged, and that must and ought to be discharged, are very important. The entire number of Bills amounts to between fifty and sixty. Now, among the Bills which the right hon. Baronet enumerated were to be found the Irish Colleges Bill, the Poor Law Amendment (Scotland) Bill, the Jewish Disabilities Bill, the Bills of Exchange Bill, containing modifications of the Usury Laws, the Parochial Settlement, the Irish and Scotch Removal, the Criminal Lunatic, the Drainage of Land, the Joint Stock Companies, the Practice of Surgery, the Merchant Seamen's Fund, the Charitable Trusts, the Ecclesiastical Local Courts, the Small Debts, the Commons Enclosure, and the Justices' Clerks Bills. Such was a list of important Bills which were in that House on the 7th of July, 1845. Parliament was that year prorogued on the 9th of August. In 1847 the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government stated, on the 31st of May, that he felt the Health of Towns Bill of very essential importance, and hoped to pass it; yet, on the 8th of July, he was obliged to withdraw it. Lord Lord Norman by on one occasion complained that— Under the present custom of Parliament most Bills must originate in the Commons. At present their Lordships' time was wasted in the early part of the Session, and everything was crowded on together when a majority of their Lordships had left London, and when, even if they were all present, they would have no time to bestow for the consideration of the measures presented to their notice. The circumstance and statements to which he had referred, showed that there was an evil to be remedied. The evil, he conceived, was admitted on all hands, and the only question which remained was whether the Bill of which he was about to propose the second reading was calculated to alleviate the evil without trenching on the prerogative of the Crown, or prejudicing the privileges of either House of Parliament. The Bill proposed that it should be lawful for cither House of Parliament, at any stage of any Bill which had been passed by the other House, to adjourn proceeding with it to a future Session. It was not intended to interfere with the power of putting a stop to measures by means of a prorogation which the Crown now possessed; for the consent of the Crown was requisite to their reintroduction; and if there was any apprehension that Bills would be improperly hung up, the provision rendering the consent of the Crown necessary to the suspension of a Bill would afford an efficient guard against abuse, the Government being responsible for the general good conduct of the business of the country at largo. He believed that no practical inconvenience would result from the operation of the measure he now proposed for the acceptance of the House. The Bill did not apply to matters of tax or revenue. After a measure had passed the House, and undergone the fullest consideration there, very considerable advantage would accrue from having it placed before the country for a period of five or six months. At present, he feared, there were unavoidably instances of hasty legislation, which might not occur were provision made for the revival of Bills in a Session subsequent to that in which they were introduced. It might be said that in the course of five or six months the House of Commons might, under a change of circumstances, alter its opinion of a Bill. But even that contingency was provided against by the present measure. A Bill revived in the Lords must come back to the Commons for its approval before receiving the Royal assent. There was one other point to which he wished to refer. It was said the Houses of Parliament might carry out the object of this Bill by resolutions of their own. With the precedent established by the 1st of George IV., c. 101, he doubted greatly whether they ought to proceed otherwise than by Bill. He had not hastily come to the conclusion that a measure such as the present was required; and, however important it might be to adhere rigidly to practice as a general rule, yet, when an evil existed, and a remedy might be applied, he trusted that he would ever be ready to set himself free from the prejudice which naturally existed in favour of what was the old practice. He had a strong conviction that a very considerable degree of relief would be afforded, and that great advantage would be derived by the House and by the country at large from the adoption of this measure. It was perfectly notorious that the House at the present moment felt the effects of delay in the progress of public business. Notice had been given of a Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider what was the best mode of facilitating the despatch of public business in that House. It was his earnest wish to refer the Bill to that Committee, and it was with the view of so referring it that he now proposed the second reading of the Bill.


felt that great part of the objection he had to this Bill was removed by the proposal to refer it to the Select Committee which it was intended to nominate on the business of the House, because when the question came before the Committee there would be an opportunity of considering all the objections in detail which applied to the measure. He must be allowed, however, to say that he thought this Bill rather aggravated the evil. As a Committee, however, was to be appointed on the business of the House, he should forbear from entering further on the consideration of this Bill; but should it so happen that the Committee was not appointed, he should take an opportunity of stating his views on the subject when it should be proposed to commit the Bill.


concluded that the hon. Gentleman who had moved the second reading would at all events refer the Bill to the Select Committee which it was proposed to appoint on the business of the House; that whether the House agreed or not, though he presumed they would, to that Committee, the hon. Gentleman would propose that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, and would nominate the persons whose names now stood in the Votes. Like the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, he should refrain from entering into any of the considerations which the Bill involved. There was one question, however, as to acting by Resolution or by Bill, which was of considerable importance, and to which he should briefly advert. He believed the House had an inherent power of making resolutions by which the House could agree at a single reading to a Bill which had been passed in a previous Session of Parliament, and the House of Lords had agreed to. There was nothing in the first, second, or third reading of a Bill which was binding upon the House by Act of Parliament, or which they had it not in their power to change. He thought, therefore, that they could by resolution declare that, instead of three readings, they should have only one reading, which should be conclusive. Such would be the effect of the Bill as it stood, because it was proposed, not that the House should be bound to assent to what it formerly agreed to; but that every clause of a Bill might be reconsidered in another Session, if it were not passed in the same Session in which it was introduced. But as to doing such things by resolution, he saw considerable objection. It would be altering the whole usage of Parliament by resolution. If there were to be a Bill, it ought to be a temporary Bill, for otherwise very great inconvenience would be experienced; and it would rather embarrass legislation than assist it, were they to adopt a mea-sure which they had not the power of al- tering without the consent of the other House of Parliament. Therefore he thought, if a measure of this kind were adopted, whether by way of resolution, to which there was great objection, or in the shape of a Bill, that Bill ought to be of a temporary character, so that the House should have the opportunity of judging of the effects of an experiment which might be required by the state of the business, but at the same time an experiment of which no one could tell the result.


objected entirely to the Bill. Instead of facilitating, it would greatly retard public business. He should therefore feel it his duty to take the sense of the House against it, and to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. W. S. Crawford) would not persist in his Motion, He believed that some Bill of this kind was necessary to enable them to get through their business. The system of Parliament taking up in one Session the business which had been left undone in a previous Session was not new. It had already been in operation for several years in the French Chambers, and had been found to be productive of great advantage.


was quite ready to refer this Bill to a Select Committee. But, notwithstanding his great respect for his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge, he could not go along with him in several of the objections he had stated to this Bill. He thought it was liable to some objections; but he considered that the general principle well deserved the attention of the Committee. He was strongly impressed with the advantage of the Bill in a case like this: Suppose a Bill to be supported by a majority of that House, but resisted pertinaciously by a small and determined minority. There might, of course, be great delay in passing such a measure, owing to that opposition; and, consequently, it might not reach the House of Lords till a late period of the Session. If the House of Lords, owing to its reaching them at so late a period, should throw out the Bill, there would be a great loss of time occasioned even to the House of Commons by its reintroduction into that House in the succeeding Session, because the minority might recommence their opposition, and endeavour to defeat it again by renewed dis- cussion. At the same time, there was one objection stated by the right hon. Gentleman in which he entirely concurred—he meant in regard to the interposition of the Crown. By the first clause it was provided that the consent of the Crown should he signified to the adjournment of Bills. Now, this might prove a serious difficulty, because they might suppose a case in which a Bill was not pressed till a late period of the Session, when many Members might have left town under the idea that the Crown would not refuse its assent to its adjournment; but the assent of the Crown being refused, the Bill might be carried by the minority of Members remaining in town. He hoped, however, that the Committee to whom the Bill was to be referred, would present it in such a form as to obviate every just objection to it.

Amendment withdrawn.

Bill read a second time.

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