HC Deb 06 February 1851 vol 114 cc161-70

said, he had stated last year that it was his intention to pro- pose such a Motion to the House, but he thought it was better to postpone it to the ensuing Session, rather than propose it at the end of a Session. It was obvious that, with the multiplicity of business I which that House had to transact, and with the topics of great public interest that came before it, there must occasionally be matter of very considerable public importance brought under consideration, and decided in a very thin House. Now, if a Motion of this kind was one for bringing in a Bill, and the House decided in favour of allowing a Bill to be brought in, to which the majority were opposed, that Bill would not make much further progress. If it was a resolution, and that resolution appeared to the majority of the House to be at variance with the public interests, that resolution would be rescinded, and no further progress taken on the subject. But supposing that the Motion was in the shape of an Address to the Crown, and that Motion was carried in a thin House, and by a majority of no great number, there was an obvious inconvenience which would arise, because that Address, being ordered to be presented to the Crown by such Members of the House as are Members of the Privy Council, no further proceeding is necessary on the part of the House. Now, supposing the advisers of the Crown were of opinion that this Address ought not to be carried into effect, and were not disposed to comply with it, he thought that they would place either the House of Commons or the Crown in a position of great difficulty. Supposing that a majority of the House were of opinion that the Address was one which should not be carried into effect, and which was at variance with the public interest, and the Crown refused to comply with the Address, the Crown would, in fact, be placing itself in the position in which the House of Commons should be, and would be carrying into effect in reality the will of the House of Commons. But if, on the other hand, the opinion of the Crown should be that such Addresses should not be carried into effect, and an answer should be returned that the Crown declined to comply with the prayer of the Address, and afterwards, upon a renewed discussion, that the House should by a majority again ask the Crown to comply with the prayer of that Address, it was evident that the Crown would be placed in a difficult position, having intended to consider the public interest, but being then placed in direct collision with the majority of the House of Commons. It appeared to him that, although the Crown should have the full liberty and discretion to refuse to comply with Addresses of the House of Commons which should appear to its advisers injurious to the public welfare, yet that that power should be very sparingly exercised, and that they should endeavour to make the cases as few as possible, and that, except in a case of grave importance, such advice should not be given to the Crown. He thought that, as in the case of a Bill or a resolution, the House should have the power of reversing their decision on a subsequent day, when the House should be fuller, and more consideration might be bestowed upon the question. What he proposed was already the practice of the House on occasions on which any money was to be granted, and he thought it would be for the public interest that they should adopt a similar resolution with respect to all other matters upon which any opposition was offered. He had included in his resolution all public matters; for it might happen that an Address might be one for papers which it might be exceedingly injurious for the public service that the Crown should grant. He need hardly refer to instances in which such a resolution would have been useful; but there were two which he would state to the House, and both of which occurred in late years. One was an Address to the Crown, for the purpose of setting free some persons transported for political offences; that was an address that could not have been carried in a full House, and it happened that it was not carried in the very thin House in which it was brought forward, but only because the Speaker, using the power which was placed in his hands, with great judgment and great firmness, when the numbers were equal, decided against the address being carried. The other instance occurred in the last Session, with respect to the Post Office; and he was asked, immediately after the Address was carried, whether the Government were disposed to comply with the address. He did not believe that the address really conveyed the opinion of that House; but at the same time it was the formal act of the House, and he did not think himself authorised to go to the Crown and say, that that resolution, which had been carried by a majority, was, in fact, not in accordance with the wishes of the House of Commons. He did not think it a case in which the Crown should interfere to prevent the wish of the House of Commons being carried into effect, and there fore the Ministers of the Crown advised that the Address should be complied with. He thought, if they considered the agitation and the public inconvenience caused by that compliance, the House would see the advantage of having such an opportunity for considering whether they would confirm their first decision, as was given by the resolution which he had now the honour to propose.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That this House will not proceed upon any Motion for an Address to the Crown to which opposition is offered, but in a Committee of the whole House, except with respect to matters which have been previously submitted to a Select Committee.


opposed the resolution as an attempted abridgment of the individual rights and privileges of Members of that House. He thought that it had of late years been too much the practice to curtail the privileges of individual Members of the House. In some cases, perhaps, this might have been advantageous to the public service, and to the despatch of business, while in others his own opinion was it had been done for the purpose of giving facilities to a majority in the hands of a Minister, for doing that which might have received more effectual opposition had more power been left in the hands of individual Members. When he first entered the House any Member had the undoubted privilege of rising and making a Motion, without giving notice of it. That was found inexpedient in practice, though he still thought it was in the power of every Member to do so. Still he admitted that by almost universal consent that right had been abandoned, and it was now expected that every Gentleman should give notice before bringing on a Motion. He had not offered any opposition to the restrictions, when they had been imposed with manifest propriety, or something like advantage to the public business; but here was a case of a different description. It was manifest that it arose out of an occurrence of the past year, which was extremely distasteful and disagreeable to Her Majesty's Ministers, and for that reason they must scrutinise more particularly the grounds on which they were urged to adopt it. How would the resolution proposed by the noble Lord apply to a Motion for an Address in answer to the Speech from the Throne at the opening of the Session? No man could say whether it would be opposed or not. If it was meant that every Address, before being presented, should be referred to a Select Committee to draw up, they would do the same in that case as they did in an Address to the Crown in answer to the Speech at the opening of the Session; but that was not expressed in the resolution, nor was it in accordance with its terms. If the resolution had been that no Address should be agreed to until it had been presented to a Select Committee, he could have understood it; but that was not implied in the resolution as it stood at present; and which, in its present form, might in some cases prove an impediment to the despatch of public business. Suppose that some foolish insanity should be practised on the person of the Queen, and that the House wanted immediately to express their feelings on the occasion, the resolution of the noble Lord would impede that. [Lord J. RUSSELL: No, no!] For it would re quire either that they should resolve themselves into a Committee of the whole House, or that a Select Committee should be appointed to draw up the Address before it could be moved. With respect to the Address with reference to the Post Office, in the previous Session, if he recollected rightly, ample notice was given he-forehand of the intention to move such an Address, and therefore the Ministry had ample opportunity to prepare their friends to meet and oppose that Address. Besides, he thought that even when the Address was carried, if the Minister believed that it emanated, not from a majority, but only from a small minority of the House, Her Majesty might have constitutionally declined to give an immediate acquiescence to the proposal, and thus have prevented the inconvenience which the Minister believed would follow, and which did follow, from the too hasty adoption of that Address. The noble Lord supposed the case where an Address should be carried, to which the Crown could not accede, and that in consequence of its not acceding, the subject again came before the House of Commons, and that that body, by persisting in the request of that Address, should thereby place the Crown in a state of difficulty. But that was not a case to be met by this resolution. That would be a case of a difference of opinion between the Crown and the House of Commons; be-cause the Minister at the head of Her Majesty's Government would have had abundance of time to collect the opinions of the House of Commons, and to secure a majority, if he had the power of commanding a majority. If he had not power, it was only saying in other words that he had not the confidence of the House sufficiently to enable him to carry out his views. The occurrence of last year showed that the Minister of the day did not sufficiently command the confidence of the House to secure a reversal of the first vote. The proper course for the Government was so to conduct the public business, and so acquire the confidence of the House, that such restrictions as were now proposed should not be necessary. The individual rights of Members had already been greatly curtailed, and he thought that there was great objection to further curtailment, unless the fullest grounds of expediency and of advantage for the conduct of the public business were shown.


wished to know the effect of this resolution on the ordinary Motions for returns from the public offices? If there was any opposition to the return being furnished, he understood that it would be necessary to go through two stages and obtain two majorities, before the return could be obtained. He would suggest that it would be reasonable to except Motions for addresses for papers of the kind to which he had alluded from the operation of the resolution.


said, that undoubtedly if there was an opposition offered to the presentation of an Address to the Crown for returns, that two stages would be necessary. There was not, however, generally any objection to addresses for the usual papers: he could not make any distinction in the resolution between addresses for papers, to the presentation of which there could be no valid objection, and addresses for papers during the course of a negotiation, the production of which might be highly inconvenient to the public service. He could not see how the resolution at all diminished the privileges or liberties of individual Members of the House: it only decided that the minority of the House should not have the power of presenting Addresses to the Crown. The intention of the resolution was, that there should be more than one vote before such an address was presented, in case there was an objection made. He did not think that in such a case as that mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford, in which the House might wish to express their feelings upon a subject respecting the Royal Family, that any opposition would be offered, and therefore, in such cases, the resolution would not come into effect; and suppose that opposition were offered, the House would immediately go into a Committee of the whole House, and the Address would at once be agreed to. He did not think that the right hon. Gentleman was justified in saying that there was any disadvantage to the Crown in what happened last year—the disadvantage was to the public. He thought there would be a great public disadvantage if an Address to the Crown should be carried by a majority in a very thin House, and the Crown should be under the necessity either of complying with an address that the House afterwards wished reversed, or of not complying with it under what might be an erroneous opinion, that the majority of the House did not agree with it. The power which Members might have to bring forward Motions without giving notice would not be affected by this resolution.


must oppose the resolution. It laid down a new principle, that the House was to take one course when a Motion was not opposed, and another course when a Motion was opposed. It was extremely difficult to see how this principle would be carried out. The single "No" of an individual Member might have the effect of postponing an important question until a Committee could be appointed. The resolution proposed by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, afforded no security against a Member coming down to the House, and in a thin House carrying an address in favour of something that had been recommended by a Committee upstairs, and then all the inconvenience would arise that the noble Lord apprehended from the present course. The resolution of the noble Lord was founded upon an entirely new principle, and one the actual working of which it was extremely difficult to fix in the mind. It might have the effect of postponing the decision of the House upon some very important question, which it was of importance to take up at once. He thought, therefore, that on principle there were grave objections to the proposal of the noble Lord. How, for example, would it operate on the general business of the House? The greater part of the information obtained by the House on colonial and domestic matters, and with respect to our relations with foreign Powers, was by means of Addresses to the Crown; now, if this resolution were passed, and a Member in Opposition wished for information, it would be in the power of the Minister, by saying "No," to postpone that Motion for an indefinite period, until a Committee could be formed, and the question brought before it. Nor was it like an ordinary postponement, when there was a difficulty in getting a day for the Motion. Here the Member had got his day and brought forward his Motion for the Address, when the negative obliged him to postpone the Address and bring forward a Motion for a Committee on another day. He thought the resolution might thus be the means of adding to the business of the House to an extent which would not be compensated by any relief derived from it. It was not expedient to legislate for cases that were not of frequent occurrence; and the noble Lord had not suggested more than two cases during a considerable period on which the House had been taken by surprise on questions of this kind; and he himself, in his Parliamentary experience, recollected so few addresses being carried in which the House did not concur on mature consideration, that he thought it was not expedient to legislate on the subject. If the noble Lord did not agree with him in that view, he thought that all events the terms of the resolution required a great deal of consideration.


wished to call the attention of the House to a constitutional question involved in the resolution. In what sort of a position would we be placed by it should the same state of things again take place which occurred before the dissolution of the Melbourne Government? Suppose that the majority of the House, or those who imagined that they might be a a majority, if they appealed to the country, carried the Address to the Crown of want of confidence in Ministers, did the noble Lord mean that under this resolution Her Majesty's Ministers were to have a second chance of retaining their seats? During the debates on the Irish Registration Bill last Session, when the Members of the House were nearly balanced, probably had Lord Stanley moved a vote of want of confidence, the numbers would have been the same as those who supported him on the Irish Registration Bill; but if the noble Lord's resolution had been in force, Lord Stanley must, if successful, again have submitted his Motion to the House, when perhaps some stray friends might have been brought from distant parts of the Continent, even from the discharge of duties abroad, to give their support to the Government. In 1841, the Government of that day was expelled by a vote of want of confidence on the part of that House. The noble Viscount read the terms of the vote: and he contended that in such cases the resolution of the noble Lord would operate as a check on the expression of opinion by the House. The noble Lord concluded In-reading an extract from the Address of want of confidence in Her Majesty's Ministers, which was subsequently agreed to by the House, on the Motion of the hon. Member for Dorsetshire.


did not think the noble Viscount was particularly happy in his illustration of what he thought would be the inconvenient working of the Motion proposed by his noble Friend at the head of the Government; for if he (Sir G. Grey) was not mistaken, the noble Viscount had read the Address of the House in 1841, which was an Address at the opening of the Session, in answer to the Speech from the Throne, and had therefore gone through precisely that course which every opposed address would go through in ordinary circumstances if the resolution of his noble Friend were carried. That Address, after being moved in the whole House, was referred, as all addresses at the opening of the Session, in answer to the Speech from the Throne, are, to a Committee, and was then reconsidered on the bringing up of the Committee's report on a subsequent day. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, seemed to misapprehend the effect of the proposed resolution, in thinking that the opposition of any Member of the House would stop a debate and prevent discussion. The effect would simply be that the debate would go on, that the House would resolve that an address should be presented, and it would be then referred to a Select Committee to draw up the address and report it on a subsequent day. The intended effect of the resolution was, that a second stage should take place in all those cases in which an address was opposed. It was, no doubt, exceedingly desirable that the terms of the resolution should be carefully considered; and if the House was not disposed to adopt the resolution now proposed, it was more desirable to take some time for consideration.


said, that he would postpone the further consideration of the resolution until Tuesday next.


"thought it was impossible it could be an adjournment. The Motion must be withdrawn, and a new one made on Tuesday.


thought it was just the same thing whether he withdrew the Motion or postponed it till Tuesday.


said, the project of the noble Lord did not appear to be so mature as to warrant his taking Tuesday next. Besides, there stood an important Motion for that night.


did not mean to take any precedence over the Motion of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire on Tuesday.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."

Motion and Original Question, by leave, withdrawn.

The House adjourned at Six o'clock.