§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON,
in rising to submit the Resolutions of which he had given notice, said, that the subject which had been referred to the consideration of the Committee, appointed at the commencement of the Session, upon the Business of the House, was so important that he trusted that he should not be thought to be unnecessarily or improperly occupying their time if he ventured to enter into some explanation of the proceedings of the Committee, and of the circumstances under which it had been appointed. It would be in the recollection of the House that at 1163 the close of the Session of 1847–48, a Session not unlike that of 1852–53, in consequence of the very great pressure of public business and the feeling which was then prevalent, that the forms of the House admitted of some alteration, a Committee bad been moved for by the hon. Member for Malton (Mr. E. Denison), and the important subject of the forms of Parliament had been taken into consideration by that Committee. Their Report was a very brief one, owing to the late period of the Session at which they had been appointed. They recommended certain changes in the practice of the House; but they, however, distinctly stated that they trusted more to the discretion and forbearance of Members of the house in the conduct of business than to the effect of any specific changes which it was in their power to recommend. In one respect, he thought that the confidence expressed by that Committee in the forbearance of Members had been justified. One great complaint of the Session of 1847–48 was the very great length to which the debates had extended, and the great frequency of adjourned debates. Since that period adjourned debates had become of much less frequent occurrence, and much less time was now consumed in debating than had been the case in 1847 and previous Sessions. It was, however, a great mistake to suppose that the delays which had been the subject of complaint had arisen altogether, or even mainly, from the length of the debates; because there could be no doubt, he thought, that they had proceeded more from the actual increase of business and the increased pressure, both upon the House generally and upon individual Members, than from the time which had been occupied in discussion. Perhaps, in proof of that statement, the House would allow him to institute a comparison between the state of business in the Session of 1852–53 and the Session of 1847–48, which led to the appointment of the former Committee on the subject. In the Session of 1847–48 there had been forty-four public Committees; last Session there had been fifty-one. Each of those Sessions was the first of a new Parliament. In 1847–48 there had been twenty-eight Election Committees; last Session there had been forty-nine. In 1847–48 there had been thirty-one Private Bill Committees in groups; last Session there had been forty-three of those group Committees. In 1847–48 there had been 112 1164 Committees upon other private Bills; last Session there had been 119. Altogether there had been in the Session 1847–48 215 Committees against 262 in the last Session. In 1847–48 there had been 255 divisions, and last Session there had been 257. The actual days and hours of sitting, however, had been less last year than in 1847–48, being 100 days, or 1,193 hours, as against 170 days, or 1,407 hours. But, perhaps, the most important fact, as affording an evidence of the increase of their business, was the number of entries in the Votes of the House, and he found that last year there had been 11,378 entries in the Votes compared with 10,412 entries in the Session of 1847–48. Last year the Session, which had commenced on the 4th of November, 1852, did not terminate until the 20th of August, 1853; and he might remind the House that, upon the 6th of August, a noble Lord in another place made use of the expression, that there were forty-two Bills then before their Lordships, and that there were thirty-one coming up from the House of Commons, making seventy-three Bills to be considered in a fortnight. Notwithstanding the number of Bills which had been passed last year and the immense amount of business transacted, he thought the House would bear him out when he said that the transaction of business in the month of August had not been creditable, neither would it prove beneficial to the public. Bills had been brought down from the other House, or sent up to it, in such a hurried manner, that it had been impossible to give them that attention which they deserved. As one illustration of this, he might mention the important measure on the subject of secondary punishments, providing a substitute for transportation, which certainly had not received the attention that its importance required, and which, he ventured to say, would have been a much better Act of Parliament than it now was if it had been properly discussed and considered. It was a consideration of these circumstances which had induced him at the commencement of the present Session to express an opinion, that it would be well for the forms of the House again to be considered by a Committee; and he had ultimately, at the suggestion of the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell), moved the appointment of a Committee upon the subject. In Ole selection of the Members of that Committee, his sole endeavour had been to obtain the 1165 assistance of those Gentlemen who, in his judgment, possessed the largest experience and the highest standing in the House, and who were, therefore, the most competent to advise the House upon such a subject. He was bound to say, however, that from the first day of meeting it became evident to him that the majority of the Committee were of opinion that the reforms and changes in the forms of the House ought not to be carried to that extent which had seemed to him, when he moved for the Committee, and which still appeared to him to be, extremely desirable. He was desirous, therefore, to have it understood that he was not responsible for the Report which had been presented to the House. It was not the Report which he had submitted to the Committee; and, in his humble judgment, the reforms in their proceedings ought to have been carried, and might safely and prudently have been carried, to an extent very mach beyond that which was indicated by the Resolutions which he was about to submit to the House for their approval. It was his opinion that the recommendations of the Committee ought to have been carried further than they had been; at the same time, he was desirous of stating that the differences which existed between himself as Chairman, and the Gentlemen who composed the Committee, were only differences as to degree, and not as to principle. He thought that the first consideration which ought to have influenced such a Committee was, as to how far they could best have adapted the forms of the House, so as to enable them to transact the immense pressure of business within reasonable limits as to time, and also in a manner the most complete and satisfactory to the country. He had considered, as Chairman of the Committee, how far the forms of the House were open to improvement and amendment, keeping in view the objects he had mentioned, and had submitted to the Committee an outline of the changes which he thought might be effected. It was the pleasure of the Committee, with a view of considering these proposals, that witnesses should be summoned, and accordingly three witnesses were summoned of high authority and the most competent to give evidence on this subject. The first witness was the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), the Chairman of Committees, and who had for a long period been conversant with the proceedings of the House; the second witness 1166 was not a Member of that House, but was a gentleman well known to it—Mr. Erskine May, whose work on Parliamentary forms and usages was looked upon as a standard authority upon the subject; and, lastly, the Committee called before them the Speaker of this House. He did not think that it would have been possible for the Committee to have selected three witnesses more competent than these to give evidence and sound advice to the Committee and the House, and he did not think that he was undervaluing the authority of the opinions of the Gentlemen who formed that Committee, when he said that that of the Speaker was entitled to far more weight, resulting from his great experience, gathered from his having long occupied his present position, and from his having devoted much attention to this subject. At the close of the evidence he (Sir J. Pakington) drew up a Report, and a series of thirty-six Resolutions, embodying the views of these witnesses, but he was sorry to say that the majority of these Resolutions were rejected by the Committee, and he should not have presumed to set up his opinion against that of these Gentlemen, but that he believed that in every one of his Resolutions he was supported by the unanimous opinion of the three witnesses mentioned. He would not trouble the House by going through the whole of these Resolutions, as most of them referred to matters of detail, but would briefly advert to the most important of them—namely, those which referred to the proceedings of Committees on Bills—to the mode of the appointment and numbers of Select Committees—to the proceedings as regarded the question of adjournments, and to the practice, which of late years had grown up to a great extent, of occupying the time of the House by moving Amendments on the Motion of going into Committee of Supply. With regard to the first of these, as to the proceedings of Committees on Bills, two important proposals were made to the Committee— in the first of which he (Sir J. Pakington) had adopted the recommendation expressed by the Speaker in 1848, and since strongly repeated, that upon (into Committee on a Bill it should not be necessary to put the question that the Speaker leave the Chair for that purpose, excepting in the case of Bills going into Committee for the first time; the other proposal which he had adopted, and which was originally suggested by Mr. May, was the proposition that the Committee of 1167 the whole House should sit to consider Bills in succession without the necessity of the Speaker resuming the Chair before each Committee. The Resolution winch he should now propose with respect to this was a modification of the plan he had mentioned, and he trusted the House would approve it. With regard to the Select Committees, he had submitted to the Committee that these Committees should be reduced in numbers—namely, from fifteen to eleven Members; that the quorum of such Committee should, as heretofore, consist of five Members; and that the Select Committee should be nominated by a Committee of Selection. Upon these recommendations the Speaker had expressed an opinion that they would be great improvements; and another reason for the adoption of a Committee of Selection was, that so invidious were the debates on the appointment of a Select Committee that the House often agreed to names rather than incur the odium of the disagreeable duty of taking objections to those names. He would at the same time remind the House that last year the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had appealed to hon. Members not to press for the appointment of any additional Committees on account of the difficulty of getting Members to act. The tendency of late years had been to reduce the numbers of Committees. This had been the case with regard to Election Committees, and also Committees on private Bills, and he believed every Member would agree with him as to the advantages to be derived from reducing the numbers of Select Committees, which would have the effect of throwing an increased responsibility on the Members composing the Committees, and give to the recommendations even more weight than at present. With regard to the question of adjournment, he had ventured to recommend to the Committee the plan proposed in 1848 by the Speaker, that when a question was under discussion the Motion for adjournment ought not to be debated, but put at once, and, if negatived, should not be repeated within an hour. The other recommendation which he should submit in a Resolution, which would, he believed, meet with considerable opposition, was, that the House should, as a matter of course, on its rising on Friday, stand adjourned until Monday, and when the House was desirous of sitting on Saturday that might be made the subject of a special Motion. He would now briefly advert to the most important 1168 of the recommendations which he had submitted to the Committee with a view of saving the public time—he alluded to the practice of moving Amendments on going into Committee of Supply. He was aware that this, from long Parliamentary practice, had been considered the legitimate moment for bringing forward the grievances of the people, and the plan which he had proposed respected this right. He thought that the present practice deprived them of one of their most important functions, by preventing them from devoting the attention which they ought to the finances of the country and the granting of the supplies to the Crown; and the evidence of Mr. May before the Committee strongly illustrated this abuse and bad practice. That Gentleman said—The effect of the present practice I wish to state to the Committee. During the last Session, on twenty-two nights there were Motions and Amendments proposed on going into Committees of Supply and Ways and Means. On all those twenty-two nights Motions were actually made by Members. The whole course of business, as appointed by the House, was consequently disarranged; and from two to twelve notices of Motion were set down on nearly every supply night during the Session. The Estimates are not duly considered in consequence of these continual delays, though the consideration of them is one of the most important functions of the house of Commons. The Session is prolonged by this practice more than by any other cause, and many Bills are sent up late to the House of Lords, or abandoned altogether.The right hon. Gentleman in the Chair stated that he thought the practice of making Motions on going into Committee of Supply had been carried to a very inconvenient extent. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), after expressing a similar opinion, added that the practice had the effect of interfering with the due consideration of the Votes in Supply, and he suggested that these Amendments should be got rid of altogether. The result of the present practice was, that, though Committees of Supply stood on the paper for particular days, no one could tell when they would come on for discussion. These occasions had, in fact, become the refuge of the destitute, and were often laid hold of by Members who would have no other opportunity of bringing forward questions, some of which, as had been stated by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, might be important, but for the sake of many of which Members could not be induced either to make or to keep a House. He regretted that the Committee did not 1169 approve the plan which he had submitted for their consideration. The only two recommendations which they had adopted were—first, that which referred to the consideration of public Bills in Committee in succession, without the necessity of the Speaker resuming the Chair on each Bill; and the next was that which related to the adjournment of the House from Friday till Monday. He hoped, however, that the Resolutions he now intended to move would be adopted by the House, and that they would be found in no small degree an improvement in the mode of conducting the public business. He would now beg to move the following Resolution, being the first of the series of which he had given notice:—That it be an Instruction to all Committees of the whole House to which Bills may be committed that they have power to make such amendments therein as they shall think fit, provided they be relevant to the subject-matter of the Bill; but that if any such amendments shall not be within the title of the Bill, they do amend the title accordingly, and do report the same specially to the House.
said, he would not take up the time of the House by going into the many questions which the right hon. Gentleman had raised, but would confine himself strictly to the Resolution before the House. He was most anxious to do anything that would expedite the business of the House, provided it was consistent with their public duty and the regularity of their proceedings; but, with regard to this first Resolution, he must say that he thought it of great advantage that the title of a Bill should agree with the subject-matter of that Bill. If the Resolution were agreed to, a Bill might go into Committee and come out a totally new measure. Who was to be the judge as to whether the matter was or was not relevant to the Bill? If it was the Chairman of the Committee, the duty would be a most difficult and invidious one; and if it was to be the mover of the Amendment, they would have him talking half an hour or more to show its relevancy, thus causing a greater loss of time than by the present method. References had been made to the House of Lords, as to their practice of altering the title of a Bill after amendments had been made, but he did not think the proceedings of the House of Lords in such cases were at all applicable to the House of Commons, or such as they should follow. He thought they should a bide by the old plan of moving an instruc- 1170 tion to the Committee. Unless, therefore, he saw reason to change his opinion, he would be inclined to move a negative to the first Resolution now proposed.
§ MR. EWART
said, he thought there was a great deal of justice in the observations just made by his noble Friend. By this change a Bill might go into Committee in one shape and come out in another. He regretted that the Committee did not go further in their recommendations of reform, and especially that they did not propose a reform in the mode of appointing Select Committees. He was satisfied that, till they got these Committees appointed through the agency of the Committee of Selection, and their numbers reduced, they would never work satisfactorily.
§ MR. T. GREENE
said, he hoped that the House would confine its attention to the question before it, and not enter upon any question that would be certain to open up a large field of discussion.
§ SIR WILLIAM HEATHCOTE
said, objection had been taken to the proposal of Amendments not in harmony with the title of a Bill; but this was only to be done in Committee, and ample opportunity would be given in the subsequent stages of considering the effect of all such alterations. It often happened that, in Committee, some Amendment was suggested that would be useful, though it might be at variance with the title of the Bill, and then it was too late to move an instruction. As to the question of who was to judge of the relevancy of an Amendment, he presumed that that was a duty which would devolve on the Chairman.
said, he did not think it a matter of much importance whether the Resolution was passed or not; but he was rather opposed to the change, as he did not see any absolute necessity for it.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he thought the time gained to the House by this change would be very trifling, and for such an object it was not prudent to part with one of the securities that the House now possessed for knowing the real nature of what was going on relative to a Bill.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, the observation that the alteration was not very important would apply equally to the greater part of the Resolutions. This was one of a series of recommendations made by the Speaker to the Committee of 1848, and he considered that it was but reasonable that clauses should be consistent with the title of the Bill in which they were in- 1171 troduced. He did not think the objection taken to this Resolution by his noble Friend (Lord Seymour) a very sound one; and, as he thought the proposition of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) an improvement on the present practice, he would give it his support.
MR. VERNON SMITH
said, he did not see how this change would expedite the business of the House. There was very little inconvenience felt from the present practice, as it was not a common thing to have an Instruction moved to a Committee. He considered that the right hon. Baronet only did his duty in bringing forward this Resolution as Chairman of the Committee, although he could not agree with the spirit of it. It appeared to him, also, that there was another measure which had been entirely disregarded by the Committee in their Report, and that was a Bill on the, subject which had been proposed by Lord Derby in 1848.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, he considered that the real question to be considered was, what was the best mode of economising the time of the House, and he was very much disappointed in the tone and the extent of the Resolutions which had been proposed by the right hon. Baronet. If there were one question more important than another, it was that of the Estimates, which were often put off till midnight, and most of them this year had not been voted until after one o'clock in the morning. These Estimates amounted to about 26,000,000l. or 27,000,000l., and of these, owing to the hurry and the late hour at which they were discussed and brought forward, nearly 17,000,000l. had been already voted, it might almost be said, without any discussion at all. The best course would be to send the Report back again to the Committee, and let it be reconsidered.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he would refer the House to the Report of 1848, in which it was recommended that hon. Members should confine themselves as much as possible to the immediate question before the House. The question before the House at this time was, whether the form of business should be altered? There was a difference as to the mode of proceeding now and in 1848, and the rule of progress had been adopted, which precluded any Instruction being moved, except on the first day of going in to Committee. Consequently, unless an Instruction were moved on that single occasion, there was no other opportunity 1172 of introducing new matter, and Members were driven to the inconvenient course of putting off Amendments to the Report or the third reading. Those considerations had weighed with the Committee, and he should certainly support their recommendation.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, although he did not consider the matter of any very great importance, he nevertheless felt it his duty to press it, having been recommended by such high authority to do so. He considered a Committee the proper arena for detailed discussion as to the progress of a Bill, and that the fewer Amendments which were introduced on the third reading the better.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he was quite indifferent as to whether the Resolution was carried or not, inasmuch as he thought it of very little consequence one way or the other. He merely rose to say that he hoped the noble Lord the Member for Totness (Lord Seymour) would not insist on the time of the House being taken up in dividing on such a question.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, he also must appeal to the noble Lord not to divide the House against this Resolution. He did not know that any great practical advantage would be derived from it, but there appeared to be some force in the argument that Amendments had better be discussed in Committee than on bringing up the Report or on the third reading.
said, he had no desire to offer any needless opposition, and, in deference to the recommendation of his noble Friend, would consent not to divide the House upon the question.
That it be an Instruction to all Committees of the whole House to which Bills may be committed, that they have power to make such Amendments therein as they shall think fit, provided they be relevant to the subject-matter of the Bill; but that if any such Amendments shall not be within the title of the Bill, they do amend the title accordingly, and do report the same specially to the House.
That the Questions for reading a Bill a first and second time in a Committee of the whole House be discontinued.
That in going through a Bill no Questions shall be put for the filling up words already printed in italics, and commonly called blanks, unless exception be taken thereto; and if no alterations have been made in the words so printed in italics the Bill shall be reported without Amendments
unless other Amendments have been made thereto.
Motion made and Question proposed—
That on a Clause being offered on the Consideration of Report or Third Reading of a Bill, Mr. Speaker do desire the Member to bring up the same, whereupon it shall be read a first time without Question put.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, he wished to move, that after the word "offered" should be inserted the words "in a Committee or," and that after the word "Speaker" should be inserted "or Chairman."
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he took exception to the whole Resolution, on the ground that it was found convenient, upon a new clause being brought up, to ask for explanations; and, upon the question of second reading, to discuss the clause, whereas this Resolution would in future prevent Members speaking upon the clause more than once.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, he thought they should not encourage the practice of adding clauses to a Bill on the third reading, and he would suggest, therefore, that the Resolution should be made to apply only to new clauses in Committee.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that in bringing up a new clause on the third reading of a Bill, five questions were put, and until the first two questions, that the clause be brought up and read a first time, were put, no one could know what it was they were about to discuss. It was only proposed to get rid of any debate on those first two questions, and there would still remain the three questions that the clause be read a second time, that the clause be read a third time, and that the clause be added to the Bill, upon all of which discussion might take place.
§ MR. WALPOLE
would suggest that no clause should be allowed to be proposed on a third reading without a day's notice.
§ SIR WILLIAM HEATHCOTE
said, he was of opinion that the practice of bringing up a clause on the third reading was highly objectionable, because, if any important alteration were made at that stage, they never had the Bill printed in its altered form, and there certainly ought to be one period in the passing of a Bill when the Members would have the whole Bill before them with leisure to Consider it.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
said, the right way 1174 was to have a Standing Order, that no clause should be brought up on a third reading unless notice had been previously given and the clause printed.
Amendment proposed, after the word "offered," to insert the words "in the Committee on the Bill or."
Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
Another Amendment proposed, after the word "Speaker," to insert the words "or the Chairman."
Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, the practice was invariably to read a clause a first time, before discussing it, and this Resolution would only make the rules of the House conform to the practice. With regard to the objection to bringing up clauses on the third reading, he would move the addition to this Resolution of the words— "and that no clause shall be offered on the consideration of Report or on third reading without notice."
§ Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words "but no Clause shall be offered on Consideration of Report or Third Reading, without notice."
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
That on a Clause being offered in Committee on the Bill, or on the Consideration of Report or Third Reading of a Bill, Mr. Speaker or the Chairman do desire the Member to bring up the same, whereupon it shall be read a first time without Question put, but no Clause shall be offered on Consideration of Report or Third Reading without notice.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That Lords' Amendments to Public Bills shall be appointed to be considered on a future day, unless the House in any case shall order them to be considered forthwith.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "in any case."
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
That Lords' Amendments to Public Bills shall be appointed to be considered on a future day, unless the House shall order them to be considered forth with.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he presumed these words were intended to include Committees of Supply and Committees of Ways and Means, and that on the Report of those Committees being brought up, no Member would hereafter be entitled to address the House. He was one—though he believed it was heretodox to express such an opinion—who considered it legitimate to discuss the general policy of the Government upon bringing up the Reports, as well as upon going into Committee of Supply or Committee of Ways and Means. He did not think that these matters ought to be discussed entirely with reference to a saving of time. No doubt, if his (Mr. Gibson's) steward brought him his accounts, it would save time if he were not to investigate those accounts, and were to refrain from expressing any opinion upon his manner of conducting his business; but he threw it out for the consideration of the House whether it was fitting that they, as guardians of the public purse, and, therefore, having the control over the public policy, should part with an occasion like this for discussing the conduct of the Government of the country. He thought it was not right that they should do so, and would move the introduction of words exempting Committees of Supply and Committees of Ways and Means from the operation of the Resolution.
§ Amendment proposed, after the word "House," to insert the words "except from Committees of Supply, and Ways and Means."
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, the right hon. Gentleman had attached a degree of importance to the alteration proposed by the Committee to which it was not entitled. It was rather for the personal convenience of the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Chairman of Ways and Means, that he should not be kept waiting at the bar while a discussion was going on upon a question of general policy, but should be permitted at once to bring up his Report, ample opportunity being afforded for discussion, such as the right hon. Gentleman desired, upon the question which would immediately follow, "That the Report be read a first time."
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, his right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson) would have full opportunity to examine the accounts and 1176 criticise the conduct of his steward, notwithstanding this Resolution; and it was not necessary that the third person—the servant of the steward, who brought the books—should be kept waiting for an hour, or an hour and a half, before he was permitted to lay them on the table.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he still must contend that they would be parting with an opportunity for discussion, if they allowed the Resolution to pass, but he would not press the matter to a division.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
That every Report from a Committee of the whole House be brought up without any Question being put.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That Bills which may be fixed for Consideration in Committee on the same day, whether in progress or otherwise, may be referred together to a Committee of the whole House, which may consider on the same day all the Bills so referred to it, without the Chairman leaving the Chair on each separate Bill; provided that, with respect to any Bill not in progress, if any Member shall raise an objection to its Consideration, such Bill shall be postponed.
said, he had some doubt that the effect of this Resolution would be to mix up the discussion of different subjects together in a very confused manner.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he wished to know what was to be the course of proceeding with regard to the Committee on Bills which stood in different parts of the paper? Were the Committees which stood low in the paper to be brought up, and precedence given to them over second readings, which stood between them and the first Committee?
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, the intention of the Resolution was to give the House power at any time to select a certain number of Bills, and refer them to be considered together in Committee on the day following—at a morning sitting most probably—so as to relieve the Speaker from the necessity of taking the Chair between each Bill to receive the Report as was now the custom. The case put by the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) did not apply to the Resolution; for, of course, then the Bills would have to be taken in the order in which they stood on the paper. It would always be in the power of any hon. Member to object to a Bill being taken into consideration in this way, and then it would go into Committee by itself just as at present.
MR. VERNON SMITH
said, he was of opinion that the course proposed would limit their powers of observation of the progress the business was making, and that the transit from one Bill to another would be less distinctly marked than it was under the present system.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, he also thought that the proposed alteration would tend to produce confusion. As he understood the proposal, all these Bills were to be referred in a lump to a twelve o'clock sitting. Now, he wished to call the attention of the House to what it did last year, and what he hoped it would not do this year, with regard to twelve o'clock sittings. From a return which he had obtained from the officers of the House, he found that, last Session, on fifteen days that the House sat at twelve o'clock it also sat after midnight. The average length of each of these sittings was fourteen hours twenty minutes; two hours and forty minutes being the average number of hours beyond midnight, giving not less than thirty-nine hours fifteen minutes of sittings beyond midnight for the whole fifteen days. Now, this might be all very well for the Government, who could go through the business by relays, but it was too much for the Speaker and himself as Chairman of Committees. Still worse was it for the officers of the House —particularly the clerks in the Journal Office and the Public Business Office. The clerks in the Journal Office were obliged to stay for at least an hour after the House rose, and they were expected to be at work again by ten or half-past ten in the morning. There certainly was a limit to human powers, and he hoped the House would have a little mercy on its officers.
§ MR. WILSON PATTEN
said, he should support the Resolution. He did not believe it would lead to confusion, and it certainly would relieve the Speaker, rather than increase his labours. With regard to his hon. Friend who had just spoken, he thought the good feeling of the House would always induce it to interpose for his relief, when the labour was becoming too severe.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he wished to know what was to be done when a division in Committee took place, and it was found that there were not forty Members present, or when any other cause arose of the Chairman having to leave the Chair, and summon the Speaker? He confessed he could not see his way clear as to the working of these Resolutions.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, he thought the Resolution would tend greatly to facilitate business and to save labour to the Speaker. With regard to Bills "in progress," the practice now was for the Speaker to leave the Chair as a matter of course, and when the House resumed, if the next Bill were "in progress" he left the Chair again in the same manner, and so on through all the Bills that were in this stage. If this Resolution were adopted, all this loss of time would be saved; and, with regard to those Bills which were not "in progress," it was only meant to apply to those about which there was no objection, for if any Member opposed their being referred to this general Committee, his objection would be fatal, and the Bill, of course, would then be referred to a separate Committee.
§ MR. VANCE
said, that if the Resolution were agreed to considerable inconvenience might arise. For instance, a Bill of some importance in Ireland—the Dublin Carriage Bill—slipped through a second reading at a time when many Irish Members interested in the matter, believing that the Oxford University Bill, which preceded it, would have occupied more time in Committee than it did, upon the night in question were absent. The hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Grogan) had now a notice upon the paper to move that the Bill be committed this day six months; but if the Resolution of the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) were agreed to, he would be unable to move it.
§ MR. GOULBURN
said, that in such a case as that alluded to by the hon. Member for Dublin the Bill would not be referred to a general Committee.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, he would now move the next Resolution, which related to the adjournment of the House from Friday to Monday. As the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) had expressed an intention of opposing this Resolution, it might, perhaps, be desirable that some statement should be made of the views of the Committee upon it. ["No, no!"] If the House objected to hear any explanation, of course he would not proceed with any further remarks.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the House at its rising, on Fridays, do stand adjourned until the following Monday, unless the House shall have otherwise ordered.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he thought it would 1179 not be doubted that this was the most important of the Resolutions which had been submitted by the right hon. Member for Droitwich. Though a Member of the Committee from which these Resolutions had been reported, he had been unable to attend its deliberations in consequence of being upon another Committee requiring his attendance almost every day, or he should have objected to this Resolution, as he intended to do now. He was not sanguine enough to suppose that, if he had attended the Committee regularly, he could have prevented the adoption of the Resolution, but he thought he could have brought forward some strong reasons to induce the Committee to hesitate before they adopted it. Every hon. Member would desire that the business of Parliament should be proceeded with as rapidly as was consistent with the proper transaction of public business, but, at the same time, he thought they ought to be cautious how they gave up any of those occasions upon which they could "pull up" the Government a little now and then. Of course, sitting upon the same side of the House as Government, he could not be supposed to be hostile to them; but, upon whatever side of the House he sat, he should hold the same opinions. Indeed, were the impossible circumstance ever to occur of his becoming a Member of a Government, he should continue to hold the opinion he entertained at present, that it was highly desirable for the executive officers of the State sitting in that House to be aware that there were occasions when observations could he made criticising their conduct, stimulating them to that which was good, and holding them back, if possible, from that which was evil; and at the same time it should be remembered that while this operation was being performed upon the Government of the day information was often communicated to the public. If it were necessary, instances could be referred to of occasions when discussions on this particular Motion of adjournment on a Friday of considerable importance and interest had taken place. The House had already, upon going into Committee, given up several opportunities of discussion, and a strong case should be made out before they proceeded any further in that direction. Almost every Session for the last few years Government took up a larger number of days for the transaction of Government business, and hon. Members found that, from some 1180 cause or other, the business of the House was gradually becoming more Government business than that of independent Members. If he was not mistaken, the noble Lord the Member for London had this year requested, with more pertinacity than before, that the number of Government days should be still further increased, and yet, though so much time had been given up to Government, the noble Lord must acknowledge that, in reality, less of Government business had been transacted this year than in previous Sessions. He had a great dislike to change for the sake of change, and in this particular case he appealed to hon. Gentlemen opposite to take a true Conservative view of the question, and let well be well, unless strong reasons could be given for an alteration. It could not be asserted that the privilege possessed by independent Members had been abused, for he found that last Session only five instances had occurred of a discussion having taken place on a Motion for adjournment on a Friday which this Resolution was intended to prevent. Upon one of these occasions the attention of the House had been occupied for about an hour on a question put by himself—a question of considerable interest at the time— relating to the Government of India, to which the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) had given him a not very pleasant answer. The right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty—who was smiling at this statement—knew that the subject was one with respect to which the Government was in considerable difficulty, and which was discussed at meeting after meeting of the Cabinet, in reference to the propriety of proposing immediate legislation or of postponing it. It was, therefore, he thought, not unreasonable that he should put the question which he had put to the noble Lord, and should take up the time of the House for fifteen or twenty minutes in stating his reason for putting it. Upon another occasion, some years ago, he remembered the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) when in opposition, bringing forward a discussion relative to the foreign policy of the country upon a similar Motion. Indeed, the noble Lord the Member for London, in this very Session, upon art occasion which he thought would become historical, when the noble Lord was under the necessity of withdrawing an important Bill relating to the representation of the people, availed himself of a similar Mo- 1181 tion for bringing the question forward. [Lord JOHN RUSSELL was understood to deny the accuracy of the assertion of the hon. Gentleman.] At any rate the statement was made upon a Motion for adjournment, and was just as irrelevant as any other statement which might have been made. The instances he had now adverted to would, he thought, show the convenience of the House possessing, at least once a week, an opportunity in which a Member of the Government, or any independent Member, could originate a discussion upon any important question. He did not believe, if the change proposed by the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) were effected, the public business would be expedited. According to the present custom, there were two modes by which incidental discussions could be brought forward—one on a Friday, and the other on a Motion moved by any hon. Member for the adjournment of the House. The one proceeding was regular so far as the Motion for adjournment from Friday to Monday was concerned, but the other was altogether irregular, it not being intended that the Douse should adjourn, but the Motion being merely made to afford an opportunity for discussion, and being then withdrawn by leave of the House. A case occurred recently where he had had occasion to find fault with certain statements made by a Cabinet Minister at a public dinner. He had intended to bring the matter forward on the regular Motion for adjournment on Friday, but had postponed it till Monday, in consequence of a request being made to him to that effect, the Minister in question being unable to be present on the Friday. He accordingly moved the adjournment of the House on the Monday following, but he thought it would have been preferable to have brought on the discussion on the Friday rather than move that the House adjourn, when he did not intend that it should adjourn, and when he knew the question of adjournment would in reality not be taken into consideration at all. If the Resolution were agreed to hon. Gentlemen would be constantly rising to move adjournments, and the transaction of public business would be much more retarded than if the privilege at present possessed were continued. Upon the grounds he had stated he objected to the Resolution, and he should divide the House upon it.
§ MR. FRENCH
said, he opposed the 1182 Resolution as an attempt to deprive independent Members of an opportunity of questioning the policy of Government. A system of encroachment upon the privileges of independent Members had now been going on slowly, but steadily, during the last twenty years. All the opportunities which hon. Members had of originating discussions had been taken from them, and it was now proposed to deprive them of their last and sole resource. If the Resolution were carried, the danger would be that independent Members would be continually moving the adjournment of the House.
§ LORD DUDLEY STUART
said, he objected to the Resolution, because he thought it interfered with the opportunities which independent Members possessed of discharging their duties to their constituents, and as Members of that House. It really appeared as though Ministers, and those who had contracted Ministerial habits by having filled high offices, were desirous of preventing independent Members from being heard at all, or of taking any past in the proceedings of the House. If such a Resolution as this was to be carried, he thought the right hon. Gentleman who proposed it was bound to show that the existing practice had been abused, and that it was productive of inconvenience. He (Lord D. Stuart) was in a position to show that it had not been abused, or that it had been productive of any inconvenience. During last Session only three discussions occurred on this particular Motion being made. The first, and most striking instance, was that of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), when he drew the attention of the House to the India Bill. The debate on that occasion did not interfere with the business of the House, for the Jew Bill was afterwards discussed, and a division took place, and the House adjourned at a quarter past twelve. On the second occasion the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) constituted himself for the time the Secretary for the Treasury, and moved that the House adjourn until Monday, and made a speech on the affairs of India, which was answered by the noble Lord (Lord John Russell). That debate did not last more than an hour. The third instance was that in which the hon. Member for East Somersetshire (Mr. Miles) called the attention of the House to the Six-Mile Bridge affair, and the noble Lord gave his sanction to the proceeding of the hon. Member. In the course of 1183 the present Session the right had not been abused. During the Derby Administration there were only two occasions on which debates took place on the usual Motion for adjournment, on one of which the debate occupied a very short time, and on the other the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department made a long speech. For himself he could say that, if this Motion were carried, he should avail himself of any opportunity which the forms of the House allowed him to bring before the House any matters of urgent importance to which he might consider it his duty to advert.
said, he must entreat the House to consider what they were now asked to vote. Independent Members now possessed few opportunities of bringing forward Motions. He had seen a great curtailment of their privileges, and he doubted whether it would be for the advantage either of the Ministry or of the public to increase these restrictions. The power of speaking upon the Motion for the adjournment of the House from Friday to Monday had not been abused, and the matter had better be left to the discretion of hon. Members.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he could not vote against this Resolution without explaining that, as a Member of the Committee, he had disapproved the proposition. The Resolution was passed when he was not present, or he should have divided the Committee upon it. He had always considered this as a popular privilege, and he thought that upon the whole it had been exercised very much for the public advantage, and that its abrogation would give occasion to much inconvenience in the conduct of the public business. He did not look upon legislation as the whole, or even the chief, business of the House. The House of Commons was the exponent of public opinion, which it sometimes led and sometimes followed, and the country would not be satisfied unless its representatives had legitimate opportunities of discussing the opinions and feelings of the public out of doors. There could not be a more legitimate occasion of doing so than this old habit of moving the adjournment of the House on Friday. He could not remember any instance in which this privilege had been abused, while he could recall to mind many instances in which it had been exercised for the public advantage. He could not, therefore, support this Resolution.
§ MR. EVELYN DENISON
said, he thought it impossible to force this Resolution upon the House. Having, as Chairman of the Committee of 1848, taken an interest in this subject, he had received a letter from the late Sir Robert Peel, who said he very much feared that, without the general concurrence of the House, a mere alteration of rules and a curtailment of the opportunities which independent Members possessed would not effect the desired end. Sir Robert Peel said—If I tell a talking bore in the House of Commons, 'You are an intolerable nuisance, and you shall only have fourteen opportunities of wasting the time of the House instead of nineteen,' I am afraid I should not diminish by one-fourth his means of annoyance. I should probably only give him a new arena for the exercise of a perverse ingenuity in showing how the remaining rules may be evaded.The experiment of restrictive rules had been tried in the United States, but it appeared upon the debate on the Nebraska Bill that the Deputy Speaker had abridged the period allowed to each speaker from one hour to half an hour, and would not "give any Gentleman the floor" unless he engaged not to move an Amendment. He concurred with the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) in opposing this Motion.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, he did not think it expedient to propose any Resolution at all restricting the opportunities of debate, unless with the general concurrence of the House. At the same time he did not think that the proposition which had been assented to by the Committee was at all unreasonable, since it was founded on a desire to forward the public business. With regard to the practice, he would admit with the hon. Member for Manchester that there were few occasions on which the Motion for the adjournment on Friday had led to much discussion, and that, with scarcely an exception, the topics brought forward might be said to come under the description of urgent subjects. The proposal, however, was founded upon the danger becoming greater every day of an influx of observations and speeches which would take up the greater part of the time of the House on Friday. There had been this year several notices upon the adjournment of the House on Friday, on one subject and the other, as if it were intended to make of Friday a regular day of notice of Motions. That had not been the case as yet, and if the privilege were abused it 1185 would always be in the power of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington) or any other Member to propose the Resolution. He therefore ventured to submit to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be better to withdraw the Resolution, seeing that it did not meet with the general concurrence of the House.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, he quite agreed with the noble Lord that this Resolution ought not to be pressed upon the House in the face of so much opposition. There were nine Members of the Committee present when this matter was discussed, including the noble Lord himself, and this Resolution received the unanimous assent of the Committee. He must deny that the present Resolution was an encroachment upon the privileges of Members. He would rather say that the practice of raising subjects of debate upon the Motion for adjournment on Friday had been a gradual encroachment upon the forms of the House. He believed there had been no instance of this practice until two years ago, when an hon. Member brought forward a Motion of which he had given notice a week before. This example had been followed by other hon. Members, and there seemed to be a danger that Friday would be regarded as a Motion day, when all sorts of irrelevant subjects of discussion might be brought forward. On one evening this Session an hon. Member had given notice of his intention to bring forward a particular subject on the Motion for the adjournment of the House on Friday, and after it was disposed of four other subjects were brought on without notice. He hoped there would be no unnecessary encroachment on the time given to the Government, but for the present he would withdraw the Resolution.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, the introduction of the practice alluded to was very recent, and might lead to great inconvenience. Until 1848 discussions were allowed every night on the question of the reading of the Orders of the Day, but upon the recommendation of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), that practice was discontinued. It was of the greatest importance that the House should know what questions were to come before it on any evening, but by the practice which had grown up, the House might be taken by surprise, and Members of the Government might be called upon to answer statements to which they were wholly unprepared to reply. The hon. Member for Manchester had on one or two occasions taken advantage of formal Motions, and 1186 made a long speech for which hon. Members were totally unprepared, and of which they had had no notice. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington) would retain the Resolution in his mind, in order that it might again be proposed should there be any disposition on the part of hon. Members to abuse the privilege.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he had only once this Session spoken on the Motion for adjournment to Monday, and that was upon an occasion on which a noble Lord had made a statement relative to his hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) which he no doubt now wished he had not made. He had also only spoken once upon this question last Session.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.