HC Deb 04 August 1853 vol 129 cc1268-74

said, that in desiring to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Committee with respect to the Office of Speaker, he should wish to act in conformity with the doctrine of his right hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. Gladstone) that the man who at this period of the Session made a long speech was an enemy of his country; he would therefore trespass but a short time on the patience of the House. He was the more induced to conform to that rule, inasmuch as, having repeatedly brought the subject incidentally before the House, having brought it before the House in a somewhat more formal manner on the 17th of last November, having on that occasion received encouragement from the right hon. Gentleman who then led the House (Mr. Disraeli) and having, at the same time, received encouragement from the noble Lord who now led the House, he was induced, in the month of February, to introduce a Motion for a Committee, and that Committee having been granted by the House without any division, and that Committee having met and agreed to the Report which had been presented, he considered that he was in a position to call the attention of the House to the subject as one on which there had been no opposition. The House itself had admitted the evil, and the necessity for a remedy. Nor had he heard of any objection to the Report of the Committee, except one in which individually he concurred—namely, that it did not go far enough in providing a remedy. When he found that the Committee could not unanimously and cordially concur in the larger measure of relief which he desired, but were ready to adopt a plan which met a great many of the existing evils, he should ask nothing more of the House than that it should adopt the Report of that Committee. His own opinion was that the best plan would be to place in the Chair, in the event of their being at any time unhappily deprived of the services of Mr. Speaker, some one to discharge all the legal functions of that office; but the Committee had judged otherwise, and had agreed to recommend the House to place in the Chair a gentleman who might discharge all its duties within the House, but not exercise any of the other functions belonging to the office of Speaker. While they ought to be thankful, on the one hand, for the long continuance with them of the right hon. Gentleman, the tax on his time and strength might be carried to a length at which any human being's time and strength might fail. Last month the House sat twenty-two days; they were 228 hours in session, giving an average of more than ten hours to each day of public service. The right hon. Gentleman had taken the Chair at noon as well as at the second meeting of the House. He had sat in that House several days for more than 14 hours. In the first week of July he sat on Monday 10 hours, on Tuesday 15¾ hours—Wednesday was excepted—and on Thursday and on Friday 15¼ hours, and 13¼ hours; in the second week he sat 11¾, 8¾, 14, and 14¼ hours. It was needless to trouble the House with all the details. It was enough to state that the attendance given by Mr. Speaker was such as very few other human beings, such as very few other Members of that House, afforded; and it was not in regard to himself alone, deeply and justly as the House valued his services, that a measure was required; but the most selfish of them all would desire any measure which should tend to secure the continuance of his presence. Remembering the warning addressed to them by his right hon. Friend and Colleague, he had not said another word more than he had deemed necesssary in submitting that the House should concur in the Resolution of the Committee:— That, whenever the House shall be informed of the unavoidable absence of Mr. Speaker, the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means do take the Chair for that day only: And, in the event of Mr. Speaker's absence continuing for more than one day, do, if the House shall think fit, and shall so order it, take the Chair in like manner on any subsequent day during such absence.


said, that in seconding the Motion of his hon. Friend, he would not make this a personal question, because he believed there was only one opinion in that House as to the value of the services of Mr. Speaker; but, considering it as a general question affecting the performance of the functions of that House, he thought they would be blind to the consequences of the very great labour imposed upon the occupant of the Chair if they did not adopt the recommendation contained in the Report of the Select Committee. It was of the utmost importance that, in case of the absence of Mr. Speaker, supposing the business of the House to be of great and urgent interest, they should be able to proceed without delay, and should not have merely to address the Clerk, but some person who should be able to preside over their deliberations. The opinion of the Select Committee, in which he entirely concurred, was, that they should only carry the remedy as far as it was absolutely necessary, and should avoid any measure which would at all fetter the discretion and choice of the Honse in case of a vacancy in the office of Speaker. They were anxious that the House should not, by any previous resolution or decision, be at all committed to any particular candidate for the office, but should choose that person who, at the time, should appear best qualified to fulfil the important functions which belonged to the Speaker of that House. He thought the Committee had been successful in their proposal. They proposed that only for one day should any person assume the Chair in the absence of Mr. Speaker—that afterwards it should be entirely in the choice of the House whom they should place there—and that the person whom they should appoint to supply this temporary vacancy, should be one who, as Chairman of Ways and Means, had already an official and recognised position in that House, and who, upon the return of Mr. Speaker, or upon the election of a new Speaker, would fall back upon his former situation. He had great pleasure in seconding and supporting the Motion of the hon. Baronet, and trusted it would meet with the concurrence of the House.


said, he quite agreed with the noble Lord that it was not desirable to carry the remedy further than was absolutely necessary; but he was not sure that the Committee in the present instance were not doing so; at least, although he had been in the House about ten years, he had not known any occasion—certainly not more than one—in which the House had not been able to sit in consequence of the absence of Mr. Speaker. That might have been a hardship to the right hon. Gentleman, however, and so far might be cited as an argument in favour of a change. But his object in rising was for the purpose of saying that, if the Chairman of Ways and Means was to have a new dignity, it would be desirable to have him appointed in a different manner from that which had hitherto prevailed. When the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) was appointed to the office of Chairman of Ways and Means, very few Members of the House knew anything about it; for he was nominated by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London without previous notice, and in an inaudible tone of voice. He spoke thus freely, not out of any discourtesy towards the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, whose intimate acquaintance with the forms of the House they all knew; and who, if he were to be again appointed, would have his cordial support, but because he desired to call attention to the subject now, in connexion with the Report of the Select Committee upon the office of Speaker.


said, he had felt it to be his duty, having been a Member of the Select Committee, to express the opinion that the Resolutions now before the House were expedient, and that this proposition was, of all, the best which the Committee could submit to the House. Almost every combination of circumstances that could occur with reference to the subject of these Resolutions was well considered by the Committee before the Resolutions were adopted. They provided for the occurrence of circumstances which all whom he addressed sincerely hoped might not be in their experience. With respect to the objection of the hon. Member for Manchester, it did not appear to be valid; nor was he (Mr. Disraeli) aware that it was unknown to any party of Gentlemen in that House, that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock would be proposed by the Minister as Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means. It had always been the practice on the first Committee of Supply to propose that the Member who was to act in that capacity should take the Chair. It had been his (Mr. Disraeli's) duty when he had the honour of a seat on the Treasury bench, to propose a Gentleman, and he followed the precedents. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) was perfectly aware of his intention on that occasion, and approved the name he brought for- ward, as it had been put to Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition side with himself, to approve the proposal which the noble Lord made on the appointment of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock. But there was ample opportunity of expressing disapproval. There were occasions on which divisions had taken place on the appointment of a person to that office, and no other notice had been given than that given by the noble Lord and others who had held the same office. It was not, in his opinion, expedient to alter the customary arrangements of that House when they answered the purpose which they were desired to serve. The mode of electing the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means was the ancient mode; and if the hon. Member for Manchester wished to have an opportunity of differing from the Minister on that subject, he might depend upon it that, however low the tone of voice in which the Minister might propose the name, he would not lose an opportunity of expressing an opinion. He had only, in the observations which he had offered to the House, expressed the general feeling of all those hon. Members with whom he had conferred on the subject.


said, he was one of those who had objected to the appointment of the Committee, and he had done so on the ground that for such a long period so few instances of absence of the Speaker had occurred when his services were required. He was also of opinion that in all cases where a deputy was appointed, the principal was apt to take a little licence. He did not rise on the present occasion to oppose the measure before the House, but to express a hope that during the next Session there would be more time to get through the business without converting night into day. He could not think that it was advantageous that Members of that House should return home daily between 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning, and have to leave again to be at the morning sitting at 12 o'clock. He strongly objected to these midnight sittings, and should, if he were in the House next Session, when he knew he would get a majority, put a stop to the sitting at 12 o'clock. It was not right that, as at present, at the close of the Session Bills of importance should be brought forward in a hurried manner, and adopted without discussion.


said, he did not rise to make any exception to what had fallen from his right hon. Friend near him. He was glad that the Committee had been appointed, and completely concurred in the Resolutions to which they had come, and which were now before the House. It was, perhaps, wise to adopt such a course at a time when no danger was to be apprehended, and when Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding the extreme labour of the Session, seemed to be not in the least affected in health, but as competent as ever to discharge his duties. He agreed with the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), that it seemed an extraordinary thing that in 200 years there had been so few instances of the House being deprived of the services of the Speaker. He could only draw the inference that the office of Speaker was a particularly healthy office. It could not be healthy on account of the hours which were kept, so that he supposed it must be from early dining. But, whatever might be the cause, he hoped that Mr. Speaker might long remain in perfect health. His object however, in rising was not so much to express his concurrence with the Resolutions as, on an opportunity like the present, when the rules of the House were, in a measure, under consideration, to submit to the noble Lord the leader of the House whether he might not think it advisable during the approaching recess to consider the propriety of renewing that Committee upon the forms of the House which had sat some years ago, and which had made several recommendations, some of which were adopted, with great advantage, by the House. He could not help thinking that the House would be of opinion that they had outgrown some of the more ancient forms of conducting business, and that the business of the House had so increased that it had become time to take some step to alter the present state of things. Business of great importance was brought on night after night at an hour when a large portion of the most able and influential Members of the House, worn out with fatigue, had left their places, and the remainder were discharging their duties at a sacrifice of convenience, to which he thought it most unwise and unnecessary that hon. Members of that House should be subjected. It was the duty of those who conducted the affairs of this country to see that the forms of transacting business were not such as to deter competent men from endeavouring to obtain a seat in that House. The noble Lord the Member for London would agree with him that the Committee to which he had referred had had the advantage of the best evidence. Mr. Speaker himself had given evidence, and had offered several suggestions, which had been discussed, and those adopted which were deemed advisable, and which would not encroach too much on the established forms of the House. He thought that since the time of the sitting of that Committee, circumstances tended to show that other alterations would be advisable, in order to shorten the progress of business, and put an end to the inconvenience to which he had adverted. The hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond) had touched upon the subject on a previous occasion, and, although he did not wish to pledge himself to all that had been urged by that hon. Member in favour of an autumn sitting, he still thought that if, instead of meeting in the first week of February, Parliament were to meet in the second week of January, it would be beneficial as regarded the despatch of public business. He thought that it would be very desirable that a Committee should consider the desirability of abridging some of the forms of the House, and thus shorten the transaction of public business.

Motion agreed to.