HC Deb 16 June 1852 vol 122 cc797-802

said, he should fix his dropped notice of Motion with respect to the expulsion of Scotch missionaries from the dominions of Austria, for the 29th instant, begging to have the benefit of Mr. Speaker's opinion on a question of order in which that House was much interested. A few days ago an hon. and learned Friend of his, the Member for Cork (Mr. V. Scully), was in the middle of his speech, when Mr. Speaker, observing that the clock had struck four, left his chair, and his Friend was of course obliged to discontinue his address. Yesterday evening, however, a very different practice prevailed, for the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer rose to address the House within a few minutes of four o'clock, and was allowed to go on speaking until nearly five, with a view, as was intimated at the time to him (Mr. C. Anstey), to facilitate "a count out" at a later period of the evening. He should like to know upon what principle an independent Member should be obliged to resume his seat the instant the clock reached four, while a Minister of the Crown was permitted to prolong the discussions of the House on Government business until five? Some evenings ago, when the House was in Committee of Supply, three hon. Friends of his were obliged, contrary to their wishes and judgments, to record their votes against a Motion which he (Mr. C. Anstey) had submitted, because it was decided, upon the authority of the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn) that all Members within the House—meaning all having the possibility of access—were bound to vote; and therefore the votes of the hon. Gentlemen were recorded, not according to their convictions, hut according to which corridor they happened to be in. His (Mr. C. Anstey's) hon. Friends claimed to be allowed to vote rather according to their consciences than with regard to their geographical position in the House; but it was decided that being in the corridor, they were "within the House," and they were obliged to vote with those who were on the right, whereas they would have preferred voting with those who were on the left. With respect to the "count out" on yesterday evening, he had no hesitation in attributing it to the Government, who were anxious to get rid of an inconvenient discussion with reference to the conduct of Lord Malmesbury. The only Minister present was the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. When the House was counted, Mr. Speaker stopped at thirty-seven; and although the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) called his attention to several hon. Members, who hid themselves from view behind the chair, he declined to notice them. If hon. Members in the corridor were bound to vote as having access to the House, he should be glad to have the opinion of Mr. Speaker on these points, and also as to the power of the House to compel Members within the walls to come to the table and be counted, when an hon. hon. Member had moved a "count." If it should appear that the House had no such power, he would give notice of a Motion to alter the Standing Orders of the House in such a manner as to render impossible the recurrence of any such proceedings as had taken place on yesterday evening.


said, that the first question of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal had reference to the proceedings of the House at twelve o'clock sittings, where, let the state of business be what it might, the Speaker invariably vacated the Chair as soon as the clock struck four. It would be in the recollection of the hon. and learned Member that some time ago the House gave its sanction to a regulation to this effect, that when the House met for the despatch of business at twelve o'clock, the Speaker should leave the Chair at four o'clock, and that the House should resume at six o'clock. This regulation, however, only applied to cases where the House met at twelve o'clock. Yesterday the House met at one o'clock, and the rule consequently did not hold good. With regard to the other question, as to what occurred a few evenings ago in Committee of Supply, the facts of the case had not been explained with such accuracy as to enable him to express an opinion on the subject; but he would state what he believed was the rule of the House with regard to voting. The general practice of the House was that no Member should be permitted to vote unless he was present in the House when the question was put, and had heard it put, and it was the duty of the Serjeant-at-Arms to clear the lobbies previous to a division. He remembered one instance where a Member had been found in the lobby during the time of a division. He (Mr. Speaker) called him to the table, and asked him whether he had heard the question put, and on his replying in the negative, he directed the Serjeant-at-Arms to open the door and let him out, and the Member withdrew- without voting. With respect to the third question, the "count out" of last night, it was scarcely necessary that he should inform the hon. and learned Member, that whenever a Member took notice that there were not forty Members present, it became incompetent for the House to transact business. The doors were not locked—they were kept open— and until the Speaker began to count, the Members were at liberty to move in and out of the House as they pleased. A hundred Members might be in the halls, lobbies, or corridors, but the Speaker had no power to compel them to come into the House to be counted. During the count out last evening he had been somewhat irregularly interrupted by the hon. Member for Montrose, who called his attention to some Members who were standing behind the chair. He (Mr. Speaker), in order to avoid mistakes, began the calculation anew, and counted twice over, and there could be no question that there were only thirty-seven Members present. No Member could be counted unless he were actually within the House, and neither the Speaker nor the Chairman of Committees had any power to compel the attendance of Members in order to be counted.


said, that with reference to what had occurred when he was sitting as Chairman of the Committee of that House, be thought it highly important that a rule should be laid down with respect to the voting of Members who were not actually within those four walls, and who might not have heard the question put. Frmerly the understanding was that hon. Gentlemen in any part of the House who could be locked in were obliged to vote. Upon the occasion to which allusion had been made by the hon. and learned Member for Youghal (Mr. C. Anstey), as it was a new House, he thought, to avoid confusion, he would take the opinion of the Committee. He suggested himself that the hon. Members should be called to the table and asked if they had heard the question put, with the view, if they had not, to repeat it, that they might exercise their opinions upon it; but that suggestion did not find favour with many hon. Gentleman. It was perfectly true that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn), and the hon. Baronet the Member for Dovor (Sir G. Clerk), and others, expressed their opinion that that ought not to be done. But if he had collected accurately what Mr. Speaker had now said—and he should be excessively sorry to make any misrepresentation—there must be an adjunct to the condition, and the Member must not merely be within the walls of the House, but must hear the question put to him, and if any hon. Gentleman within the walls and precincts had not heard the question, he should be allowed to withdraw. He was glad to hear that opinion, and in future he should guide himself by it.


said, he willingly admitted, from what Mr. Speaker had just stated, that he was a little irregular yesterday; but, finding him stop at thirty-seven, and seeing three Members in the House, he naturally called attention to them: he saw at least twenty more outside the glass doors, and within the House, as he contended. He thought it of importance that the question should be settled. Formerly they used to divide in the House, and they were counted in the benches as best they could. Then it was found convenient to go into separate lobbies, and he understood the rule was that the doors should be locked, and all within them should vote; On an occasion when he was a teller, some thirty years ago, he remembered Mr. Wilberforce retired behind what was called Solomon's Porch, or the Speaker's Chair, and secreted himself. Another hon. Member immediately took notice of the fact, and he was brought to the table, and asked if he had heard the question? He said he had not. Then the clerk was directed to read the Motion, and he was asked which way he voted, "Ay" or "No?" He said, "No;" and the vote was recorded. It was then held that the door could not be opened until the Speaker or Chairman should direct it. At one time he (Mr. Hume) thought the rules of the House most complicated; but he was free to confess, after some years' experience, that without those rules and orders it would be utterly impossible to conduct the business of the House. The rule of the old House of Commons was that every one inside the outer doors should be obliged to vote; but this being a new House, it was not quite certain what really was in and what was out. He therefore submitted that in the next Parliament there ought to be a Committee to draw up a rule which should prevent the possibility of such an occurrence as that of last night. He himself had reason to complain, because he had come down to the House to hear what he anticipated would be a very interesting discussion, on the Motion of the noble Lord (Viscount Jocelyn), on the affairs of Scinde. He hoped nothing of the kind would occur again during the short time they would yet be together, but that in the next Parliament the limits of the House would be clearly defined. He knew that he was sometimes irregular; but when he was told that three and two did not make five, as he was last night, he was naturally led into that irregularity.


said, that the hon. Member must see that it was impossible to apply the rules of the old House to the present House. The rules for dividing were totally different. In the old House, when Members were in Committee, they generally crossed the floor, and when they were not in Committee, the "Ayes," or the "Noes," as the case might be, were sent forth to the lobby. If Members were in the Speaker's chamber they were not allowed to vote; but there was a little room behind the Speaker's Chair, in which, if Members were, they were allowed to vote. There was no such distinction in the present House. As the lobbies in the present House were required for the purpose of dividing, he was sure the House would not suffer if a rule—Standing Order—were adopted, declaring that no Member should be allowed to vote unless he were present in the House, and heard the question put, and that the Serjeant-at-Arms be instructed, before a division, to clear the lobby.


said, he wished to give notice that he should tomorrow move that in future when the House was counted the Serjeant-at-Arms should be directed to lock the doors in the corridors, so that those Members within the precincts of the House might be counted.

Subject dropped.

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