HC Deb 12 August 1850 vol 113 cc1029-43

rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to a return headed 'Public Bills," lately printed by order of the House. It was not his intention to enter into a review of the foreign or domestic policy of the Government; his only object was to call the attention of the House to what had been the conduct of public business during the present Session, and merely with the view of placing the subject before the House, in order that they might not in another Session of Parliament have their time so completely taken up as it had been this Session, and also that they might have what time was taken up better occupied than it had been during the present Session. He never knew any Session of Parliament since the passing of the Reform Act in which there had been a more anxious desire to transact and get through the business than during the present Session; and he had observed also that the debates had not been adjourned, with the exception of the foreign policy debate, lasting for four nights, and in which twenty-five Members spoke during thirty-eight hours. There had been only one adjourned debate during the whole Session, and with that exception the speeches in general had been more concise than hitherto. The House also had sat every Government night without being once counted out; and he would call attention to the number of hours they had devoted to public business, and he would instance some days in July. He would take the Mondays and Fridays in July, as they were Government nights. On the first Monday and Friday in July the House sat 19 hours; on the second Monday and Friday, 24 hours; on the third Monday and Friday, 22½ hours; and on the fourth Monday and Friday, 25 hours and 20 minutes. The total number of hours they had sat during the Session was 1,041; they had had 149 sittings; and they had sat now for 25 weeks, exclusive of the holidays; and, allowing 100 hours for the Wednesday sittings, for four days every week they had sat during the whole of that Session, ten hours and a half a-day. This was all totally independent of the Committees which sat in the mornings, and in the deliberations of which their constituents were often deeply interested. The House had frequently sat at twelve o'clock at noon, and having adjourned over an hour or two in the afternoon, they resumed again in the evening, and continued sitting till two and even three o'clock in the morning. Now the inference he drew from all this was, that it was impossible for men, however great might be their intellectual or their physical strength, to devote so many hours to the performance of their duty to their constituents, unless some better arrangement was made for the conduct of public business. He did not want to find fault with the Government in this matter; he know their position with regard to it was one of difficulty; but if they would consider the subject during the recess, and make suggestions when Parliament reassembled, or recommend the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into it, greater facilities would be afforded for the transaction of the business of the country, and great convenience rendered to Members of Parliament. They could not spend all their time within the walls of that House; they had all other duties out of the House to perform; but at present it was impossible for any Member to obtain time for despatching any private business, or for purposes of relaxation or enjoyment. He found that last year the House sat 932 hours, and the Government passed 89 Bills; and this year, up to the 9th of August, they had sat very much longer and only passed 58 Bills, and this notwithstanding the prevalence of a greater desire to get through with the business. He had moved for a return of the Bills brought in during the present Session, and he would allude to the document to show the progress that had been made with some of the Bills introduced, and the manner in which they were disposed of. He would show that it was utterly impossible to know when important Bills would come on, or the way in which they would he proceeded with. Ninety-five Bills had been brought in by the Government. He would take a few from the return. There was the Appointment to Offices Bill. It was brought in on the 9th of July, was read a second time on the 12th of July; the Committee was postponed five times, and now they did not hear anything of it. The Brick Duties Bill was brought in on the 18th of March, and passed without much opposition. The Charitable Trusts Bill was brought in on the 8th of February, the second reading was deferred eleven times, the Committee was deferred thirteen different times; the number of times it stood as amended to be considered was four times; the third reading was deferred five times; and thus a Bill brought in on February 8, lingered till the 25th of July. The Chief Justices Salaries Bill was brought in on the 11th March, was considered in Committee on the 25th, as amended to be considered it was deferred eleven times, and no more was heard of it until the 1st of August. The Duke of Cambridge's Annuity Bill was brought in on the 22nd of July, and run through the House; and one remarkable fact was, that where the Government had shown a strong desire and intention to carry any Bill, they invariably carried it; and when they had shown vacillation and indecision, the Bill had gone on from time to time, and various postponements took place, so that Bills introduced at the beginning of February lingered to the present month. Then there was another Bill placed on the table; and he mentioned this, and other instances, to show how much time had been taken up by the introduction of Bills that were never intended to he carried through; and then, having been introduced, indecision was shown about them, and after remaining among the Orders of the Day for an almost indefinite period, they were at length struck off. The Fees (Court of Chancery) Bill was brought in on the 25th April; the second reading was deferred three times, the consideration in Committee was deferred fourteen times; and the Bill, brought in on the 25th April, lingered to the 29th July, and then was withdrawn. Now, he said that, in such cases, it was better that the Government should not bring in his Bills at all, unless they really intended to persevere in carrying them through. The Highways Bill was brought in on the 13th February; the Committee was deferred no less than thirteen times, and the Bill lingered on to the 12th July, and then was withdrawn. The same thing was the case with the Incorporation of Boroughs Bill. The Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Bill was brought in on the 18th of February, the second reading was deferred fifteen times, and a single word had not been heard about it since that time down to the 1st of August, up to which date the return was made. Again, there was the Lord Lieutenancy Abolition Bill, brought in by the noble Lord on the 17th of May, and read a second time on the 17th of June. It was almost unanimously agreed to by the House, only thirteen or fourteen Members opposing it, and yet three whole nights were taken up in discussing the measure, when the time might easily have been much more usefully occupied. Nevertheless, this Bill meeting with so little opposition, and which might have been carried, was withdrawn on the 4th July, and thus all the time the House had occupied was utterly wasted. The Marlborough House Bill was brought in on the 30th of July, and it was an instance of how a Bill could readily be passed by the Government when they showed a firm determination to persevere with it; for there was no doubt it would become law. The Mercantile Marine Bill was brought in on the 11th February, and the second reading was deferred five times; but without even being read a second time it was withdrawn on the 19th April, and another Bill was obliged to be introduced after all the discussion that had taken place on the first Bill. The Merchant Seamen's Bill was brought in on the 11th February, and the second reading was deferred no less than fifteen times, and Members might have come down fifteen different days expecting to discuss this Bill; but at last, after lingering from the 11th February, it was withdrawn on the 8th July. Then there was another Bill of nearly the same character—the Merchants' Shipping Bill—brought in on the same day as the preceding measure, but withdrawn on the 19th April. The next Bill was one that showed again how the Government could pass a measure through whenever they were determined. He alluded to the Metropolitan Interments Bill, with which the Government having determined that nothing should interfere, it was of course passed. Then came the Oath of Abjuration (Jews) Bill, about which he would say little, because the subject had been so recently debated; but this Bill was brought in on the 30th of May; the second reading was deferred four times; and (as the House would have a full recollection) on the 22nd of July it was withdrawn. Then the Parochial Assessment Bill was brought in on the 8th of April, it never went to a second reading, but remained on the Order table for three months. The Public Health (Scotland) Bill was brought in on the 6th of March, it was read a second time on the 12th of April; the Committee was deferred five times, and ultimately the Bill was withdrawn. The Railway Audit Bill was a case of precisely the same nature. Then came the Savings Banks Bill, which was brought in on the 29th April, it stood eleven times for a second reading, and no notice whatever had been taken of it up to the 1st of August. The Stamp Duties Bill was another remarkable case. It was brought in on the 22nd March, and lingered on to the 10th May, when it was put off for six months. Now, here was a Bill of really very great importance—he meant the Woods and Forests Bill. A Committee sat two years on the subject; and if ever a measure ought to be brought under the consideration of that House to correct the abuses of a department of the State, it was this Bill for the better management of the Woods and Forests. It was introduced by the noble Lord on the 22nd February, its second reading was deferred fifteen times, and it lingered from the 22nd February till the 4th July, when it was abandoned for the Session. Now what was the summary of the Bills they had passed in the present Session—the most laborious Session, he ventured to say, that was ever known in this country? The returns made up to the 1st of August showed that they had passed the Australian Colonies Bill, which was introduced on the 11th of February; also the Brick Duties Bill, which was unopposed; the Charitable Trusts Bill; the Mercantile Marine Bill (which was brought in on the 11th February, and lin- gered till the 29th July); the Metropolitan Interments Bill, and the Parliamentary Voters (Ireland) Bill. But he must allude to another measure which furnished a further proof of how the Government could pass a measure when they showed their determination to do so. He meant the Ecclesiastical Commission Bill, which came down from the House of Lords; and although it encountered considerable opposition in that House, yet, owing to the spirit of perseverance evinced by the Government, they had succeeded in carrying their measure through. Now, the course that he hoped the House would take was this—really to consider the serious evils which they suffered from this mode of conducting the public business; and he hoped the Government, as he might say the managers of public business, would devise some arrangement that would afford relief to themselves as well as to the independent Members of the House. He believed that fifty-eight measures this Session had been introduced by private Members, and up to the 1st August eighteen of them had passed, or only about one-third of the whole. Now, as he had said before, one of the great evils of this system was that the House hardly ever knew what business was likely to come on at any particular time, and Members came down and were obliged to wait night after night and hour after hour in a state of uncertainty as to what questions were to be taken, especially on Government nights; for on other nights private Members had no right to take the notices out of their regular order on the paper. Having made these remarks, he would repeat that he believed the number of Bills of a really useful nature which they had passed this Session would make a very bad show for the number of hours they had been occupied with legislation. He believed, indeed, that when Parliament came to prorogue, they would have sat more hours and have done less in the present Session than during any Session preceding. He had avoided going into the question of the general policy of the Government, domestic or foreign; his only desire being to bring in review before the House the made in which its time had been occupied, with the view, if possible, of leading to some practical amendment in the system of conducting the business of the country.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That there be laid before this House a Return, in continuation of Parliamentary Paper, No 671, of the present Session, headed 'Public Bills,' to he made up to the present time.


said, that the hon. Baronet had entirely confined himself to the mode of conducting public business, and had not entered into the question of the policy of different measures; but at the same time he (Lord J. Russell) could not say he agreed with the hon. Baronet in the general tenour of the remarks he had made to the House. It appeared to him that the House had really conducted an amount of public business such as he believed no assembly in the world had ever conducted before, and, whatever might have been the case in one or two Sessions, the present Session certainly afforded an example of great attention to public business, and of but few departures from the general understanding to facilitate the passage of useful Bills as speedily as possible. It should not have been forgotten that a portion of the Session had been occupied with a question on which the House had gone over the whole foreign policy of Government, and it was obvious that the principal speakers could not dispose of so important a subject without going into it at considerable length. The hon. Baronet had said, much to his (Lord J. Russell's) surprise, that hon. Members were not aware of the precise business to be brought forward, especially on Government nights. Now, that certainly might have been the case some years ago, for then, when there were twenty or thirty notices on the paper, the Minister might have brought any of them forward without notice; but that was no longer the case. He (Lord J. Russell) had been the first to alter that custom, and he had introduced the practice of giving notice and of printing in the Votes with the Orders of the Day those Bills, naming two or three especially which were likely to occupy the greater part of the time of the House, to be brought in before the other orders. The Government, not confining themselves to that notice, had made a still further regulation, by which the Orders of the Day were taken on Government nights in the order in which they stood upon the paper—a regulation which was of some inconvenience to the Government, but of obvious advantage to the House. The hon. Baronet had also omitted to state that in the course of the Session the Government must occupy a very large number of nights in the discussion of the Estimates. They had the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates, and the Ordnance Estimates to consider, and then came the Miscellaneous Estimates, which were pretty certain, every time they came before the House, to give rise to some very miscellaneous debates. These must take up a considerable part of the Session, and when he observed that in the course of a month Government had only ten nights, it was obvious that more than one month on the part of Government was taken up by the Estimates, which must be brought forward, as the supplies depended upon them. Whatever other objects they had in view, Government must therefore 'give up a month at least, or probably five or six weeks, to the Estimates, in order to obtain the necessary supplies. He thought, considering these circumstances, the importance of the subjects brought forward for discussion, and the stand that had been taken with respect to several of them, that, if anything was surprising in the matter, it was that the House had been enabled, by its devotion to public business, to got through so many important Bills in all their stages. The hon. Baronet had observed—and he (Lord J. Russell) was not saying that such cases did not occur—that several Bills which had been introduced had not been proceeded with; but then there were various circumstances which might always account for some Bills not being pressed forward. The Government thinking a measure likely to be useful to the public interest brought it into Parliament. There hon. Members took a different view of the measure, and it was withdrawn; or, again, it might be that there was a strong impression out of doors that it should not be proceeded with, and it was consequently abandoned. For instance, there was the Bill of the late Government with respect to education, which was introduced into the House, after some discussion altered and amended, and finally given up. His opinion was, that Government was not in the least to blame for bringing forward that measure, or for giving it up. He had looked upon it, when first introduced, as a useful Bill for a useful purpose, but there was a popular impression against it, and it would have been useless to proceed with it. He could not conceive how it was possible for any Government to foresee the result in that House, or the impression on the part of the public, which might occur with respect to Bills which they brought forward. In the course of his remarks the hon. Baronet had alluded to the Landlord and Ten- ant Bill for Ireland. Now, that was a subject very much considered, and it had occupied the Cabinet for seven or eight meetings, at which the whole subject was under consideration. The Bill was then brought forward; it had been sent to a Committee chiefly of Irish Members, who sat for several weeks, and finally reporter upon it. No more consideration could have been given to a Bill; but certainly when it was brought forward in the course of the present Session, and when the measure went to Ireland, it was seen the measure was not likely to produce satisfaction, and that its working would not be in all probability advantageous. He did not see how it was possible for any person, whether a Member of Government or a private Member, to foresee the exact public impression which would be created by any Bill, or whether it might or might not be advisable to press it. As to another Bill, that for the abolition of the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland, he had stated his reasons for bringing forward the measure on its reduction. Those reasons had been, he thought, generally approved of by the House, by the people of this country, and in the other parts of the united kingdom. But then arose the question of the appointment of the Fourth Secretary of State, with respect to which considerable doubts were entertained. He had no doubt on that subject himself; hut he found that there were such doubts on the part of hon. Members, and of persons whose opinion was entitled to attention. When he was about to proceed with that measure, and with several other Bills—one of which was a measure for the admission of Jews into Parliament—he found a fortnight in the Session taken up with a debate on foreign affairs. That completely changed the position of affairs; if he had been able to send up the Bill for the abolition of the Lord Lieutenancy, even in the middle of July, to the other House, he might have proceeded with it; but if it was sent up at the beginning of August, it was obvious there would be reasons given in the House of Lords, not against the Bill itself, but against considering a measure of such importance at so late a period of the Session. There were several other Bills to which similar remarks had been made by the hon. Baronet, to which similar objections would apply. As to the Court of Chancery Bill, and another Bill to which the hon. Baronet had alluded, there had been a Committee sitting upstairs with views not entirely different, but with views in favour of different proposals, and while these proposals were being considered it was desirable and reasonable those Bills should be withdrawn; but he could not think that time had been quite lost, for when Bills of that kind were brought forward, very often, in the course of discussion by a Committee of the House, a way was at length discovered by which many considerable difficulties might be obviated. He knew certainly those Bills often took very considerable time. Let them them take, as an example, the case of the County Courts Bill. One would suppose it would only be necessary to state that its object was to extend the local administration of justice, and to render it cheaper and more accessible, for Parliament to receive it with general assent. And yet what were the facts? His late lamented Friend Earl Spencer, had, in the year 1823 or 1824, he believed, or some year about that time, when Mr. Canning was the leading Minister, introduced a measure on the principle of the county courts. It had been improved by every one, amended by every one, and dropped year after year. He had introduced it himself, and several hon. Members at different times had done the same; but still it did not pass into a law till the late Administration took it up, and in 1846, after some twenty-three years' discussion, the Bill at last became law. If the hon. Baronet would say that every Government was to blame from 1823 to 1846, it might be so—it might be that if the hon. Baronet was Minister he would define at once, not only the proper measures, but all the details, which would be exceptionable, or which would meet the assent of both Houses of Parliament. Such a thing might be possible; but it certainly had not occurred in his (Lord J. Russell's) memory, though many able men had been at the head of affairs during that period. With respect to the Woods and Forests, the Bill was founded on the views taken by a Committee of the House; but after the Bill had been introduced, a change took place in the office of Chief Commissioner, and he (Lord J. Russell) thought it desirable that his noble Friend the Member for Totness, who had shown so much ability and judgment as Chairman of the Committee on the Army and Navy Estimates, should have full time to make any suggestions which his judgment and experience might enable him to offer, and that it would be better to give his noble Friend that full time for consideration, instead of making any amendments at the moment. He could not go further into the various questions to which the hon. Baronet had alluded. There were several Bills of very great importance, which, as the House knew, had been brought in and carried to a successful issue, every one of which had had a great deal of attention and of pains bestowed on them. The Australian Colonies Government Bill was one of those. It certainly had taken up much time; but no one could doubt that the various statements of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, and of the hon. Baronet the Member for South-wark, had developed views of colonial policy highly worthy of the attention of the House, and which, whether they were right or wrong, were fully entitled to consideration. The Metropolitan Interments Bill had also taken up a good deal of time. [Sir B. HALL: One night and two morning sittings.] Well, a night and two morning sittings; but he thought local prejudice had had a very great effect in obstructing the progress of what he considered a very useful and necessary measure. Another circumstance which appeared to him to stand in the way of speedy legislation at all times was this, that the more Members of the House turned their attention to public subjects, and the more Members there were who were capable of addressing the House on such subjects, the more time would be consumed in discussing any question. While debates were confined to some four or five leading Members on each side, they delivered their speeches on a particular subject, and were not ready to enter upon every tonic which came before the House, and a great number of Bills of great importance were postponed, with respect to which hon. Members, if they looked to the records, would scarcely find the trace of a debate. In these days there was far more attention paid, not only to the principle but to the details of every measure, and there was a far greater number of Members ready to address the House, and to enforce their views, than had been formerly the case. That was a change which had taken place quite independently of any Government or of any legislation. It was an improvement in many respects, and was a change which ought to be; but, with the improvement derived from the increased attention to business, and from the public spirit which induced Members of the House to devote their time and labour to public objects, there was a great amount of time necessarily given to the consideration of the various questions under discussion. He thought they had every reason to be satisfied with the close attention given to the public interests during the present Session; and, considering the labour they had bestowed on the measures he had just mentioned-—on the Metropolitan Interments Bill, on local Bills, and on measures of improvement, comprising one so important as the Australian Colonies Bill, he thought the House had shown its capacity for business, and that he had been justified in saying they had accomplished a greater amount of legislation than any assembly in the world.


Sir, there can be no doubt of the great industry exhibited by the House. I can justly say, that at least 200 hon. Gentlemen have been worked harder in the last six months than an equal number of labourers taken from any parish in England. Nevertheless, I think Her Majesty's Ministers would do well to take a suggestion from the hon. Baronet who has introduced the subject, with regard to adopting a better working system in future Sessions. One great fault of the House is this, they have so many matters of detail brought before them, that it is impossible to have them considered in a House so numerously composed. I therefore think it would be well if the House were to be divided into sections for the consideration of details, leaving the House at large to decide on the principles, by which means, I doubt not, business will be got through much more satisfactorily than at present. The noble Lord at the head of the Government has referred to a few Bills, amongst the rest the Landlord and Tenant Bill. Now, that very Bill I pressed upon the noble Lord several times during the Session, and urged the necessity of Government making it a measure of first importance. It is now a measure of first importance, not alone as regards the people of Ireland, but with regard to what has just taken place. A conference has been sitting in Dublin of earnest men from all parts of Ireland. Now, Sir, without agreeing in all that has been said and done by that conference, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact of its importance, and that it will be the means of evoking a more formidable agitation than has been witnessed for many years. Instead of the agitation being confined, as heretofore, to the Ro- man Catholics and their clergy, Protestant and dissenting clergymen seem to be amalgamated with Roman Catholics at present—indeed, there seems an amalgamation of all sects on this question; and I think it time the House should resolutely legislate on it. I hope the noble Lord at the head of the Government will take measures for sifting this question thoroughly, and that he will submit a Bill early next Session of a simple and conclusive character, and press the question on the House with the same earnestness he did some other Bills, which were rather of a questionable character. There is business also in this House—Committee business—apart from the more prominent business of the House. There is one Committee—the Committee on Official Salaries—which has been made the subject of criticism in another place. A noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham) has asserted in another place that the Committee was composed of a most ignorant body of men. It probably was very true that we did not pretend to be as learned as that noble and learned Lord. But, Sir, we pretend to possess information on some matters of a practical nature; and I doubt very much if the noble and learned Lord was correct in stating that the Committee was composed of ignorant men. The noble and learned Lord complains that he himself was not examined, and then jumps to the conclusion that we were ignorant men. Sir, if we did not examine that noble and learned Lord, it was not because he did not ask to be examined over and over again; and when the noble and learned Lord's application was submitted to the Committee, I believe they were unanimous in feeling that the noble and learned Lord could give no information that would be of the slightest importance to the Committee, or that would have the slightest weight with the House or with the country. I believe the House and the Committee will not regard the noble and learned Lord's remarks as very formidable. I recollect distinctly having had a passage of arms, or rather of pens, with the noble and learned Lord some few years since; and I am pretty well satisfied, and, I believe, so are the public also, that I succeeded in foiling him in the combat. Since that time the noble and learned Lord has not made himself more formidable; because the course he has taken has been so erratic, so extraordinary, that he who was once respected and admired, has come to be very much pitied. I think I might with much justice apply the language of Milton's Samson to the noble and learned Lord— His race of glory run—his race of shame. And well, and appropriately, might his friends add, "Would that his tongue and pen were now at rest!" I think it would be better for the noble and learned Lord's reputation that they were at rest. But, as regards the labours of the particular Committee, I think they were very useful—much more useful than those of many Committees which have sat of late years.


said, that as hon. Gentlemen who sat on his side of the House did not act together as a party, and as the hon. Member for Montrose and the hon. Member for Manchester, with some others on the opposite benches, had proved extremely rebellious during the present Session, it was obvious that machinery intended for two parties in the conduct of public business, was not suited for the purpose. He had heard with astonishment the proposal of the hon. Member for Manchester to divide the House into sections to consider matters of detail. Who were to decide what were matters of detail, and what were matters of principle? The attempt to decide that point on such a question, for instance, as the Irish Franchise Bill, would involve the House, not only in long debate, but in acrimonious dispute. He deeply deplored that Government had not attempted to legislate on the subject of landlord and tenant in Ireland; and the reason given by the noble Lord for his abandoning it, that the demands from one side were so unreasonable, would be of greater validity next year than now. Had the recent conference exhibited any moderation of tone, the noble Lord might have withdrawn the Bill, if the Irish representatives had opposed it; but they had no opportunity of expressing any opinion upon the measure, and it had been withdrawn sub silentio, leaving nothing but exasperation, irritation, and disappointment in Ireland for the recess. He would like to know on what principle the hon. Member for Manchester would act with respect to this question. Would he carry out his own principle of buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest market, as far as the landlords were concerned; or did he think the tenant-right agitation could be reconciled to his free trade doctrines? He certainly would like the hon. Member to show how he could combine the principles he advocated, with the principles of the tenant confer- ence. Was it the new free trade doctrine that the Irish landlord was not to sell his land for the hest price he could get, and that while all agricultural produce should be open to competition, the land was to be locked up under a compulsory value? The hon. Member by his speeches and writings had excited considerable expectation among the people of Ireland, that he would do something for them during the present recess; but it was far easier for an independent Member to counsel Ministers than to bring forward a substantial measure of improvement. He would ask the hon. Member what had become of his long-promised game law? Let the farmers of Ireland judge of the hon. Member's ability to servo them, when they saw the farmers of England waiting in vain for the redress of grievances which the hon. Member had promised them. If he raised false hopes among the tenantry of Ireland, that Parliament would transfer the fee-simple of the land to them, no one knew better than himself that those hopes never would be realised. Nothing could be more certain to scare away English capital from Ireland, than the idea that there was a distinction between the law of property in the two countries. He foresaw a formidable agitation on the question, and hoped the Lord Lieutenant would not be called upon to exercise the powers with which they had again intrusted him.


begged to explain. The practice of dividing the House into sections was practised in the United States and France, and with success. The hon. Gentleman mistook him if he supposed that he (Mr. Bright) approved of all that had been said and done by the Dublin conference; but he wished to call attention to the fact. As regarded the game laws, he should say the tenant-farmers were powerless at present to carry any measure of the sort through that House. But with corn at 40s. a quarter, he thought landlords and tenants would be brought to their senses speedily, and then the question would more easily be set at rest. That was his reason for not bringing the question before the House.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.