HC Deb 30 July 1857 vol 147 cc713-8

VISCOUNT PALMERSTON moved that upon Tuesday next, and on every succeeding Tuesday during the Session, Govern merit Orders of the clay should have precedence.


said, he took that Motion as a hint that the House was to set itself in order, and he begged to ask what course the Government meant to take with regard to the great number of Bills already before the House and which received fresh accretions daily. No fewer than twelve new Bills had been sent to him that morning. There was already a considerable number of Bills before the House partly discussed, and a great many more on important subjects might be expected from the House of Lords daily. It was desirable to know under those circumstances precisely what course would be taken by the Government, and especially whether they would proceed with the Divorce Bill and the Probate and Letters of Administration Bill. Another very important measure, the Jew Bill, had been set down for a second reading, and considering the anxiety felt by the public, he thought the intentions of the Government on this subject also ought to be stated.


said, he also wished to inquire whether it was the intention of the Government to proceed with the Probate Bill to-morrow, and, if so, whether it would be made the first Order of the day?


said, he begged likewise to remind the House that the Public Office Extension Bill, which would involve an enormous outlay of public money, stood for to-morrow, and he wished the noble Lord at the head of the Government to state whether he meant to postpone it for the present Session, or, if not, whether he would give an assurance that it would not be taken at two or three o'clock in the morning, when the probability was that owing to more than half the Members having retired through fatigue, it would pass sub silentio.


Before those questions are answered, I wish to ask another with respect to the Order which is stated to have been made by the House of Lords and which affects Bills going up from this House. It is said that the House of Lords have made an Order with reference to the reception of Bills after a certain day fixed, namely, the 7th of August. Now, the power that has been used in that respect on former occasions by the House of Lords has been a very extraordinary one, and nothing that I can conceive but the abuse which took place for some years of going on between five and six months considering Bills here without sending them to the other House could be a sufficient justification for the assumption of that power. But, in the present case, not more than three mouths will have elapsed by the 7th of August since business commenced. Such an Order is equivalent to an Order in ordinary Sessions, that after the 1st day of May the House of Lords will not consider any Bill sent up to them. It seems to me that if this has taken place, and, more especially, if it has taken place with the consent of the Government, it is a course of proceeding of which the House of Commons has a just right to complain. Moreover, I think the House has a special right to complain of the Government, because the Government has had more than the usual number of days, and now my noble Friend is proposing an additional day on which the Bills of individual Members will be postponed for the Bills of the Government. It is very possible that by hurrying on all their own business the Government may meet the House of Lords by the 7th of August, while private Members, having no power to push their Bills forward against the weight of the Government, will not have an opportunity of having their Bills considered. The Bill to which reference has been made, the second reading of which the Government refused to promote, may be carried through its remaining stages in a few days, but it is quite in the discretion of the Government to defeat the Bill by delay. I do not mean to say that they will have recourse to any such power, but it ought not to be in the discretion of the Government to prevent business which they do not like in order to promote business which they do. I must repeat that this proceeding on the part of the House of Lords cannot be justified. I hope it is not true that the Government gave any countenance or support to the Resolution, because it will, in effect, if it goes on in this way, be a subversion of the legislative powers of this House.


In order that there may be no misunderstanding or misapprehension on the question, I beg to announce that after the House goes into Committee upon the Civil Service Superannuation Bill I will make such a statement of the bearings of the measure as I think fitting, and will call the attention of the Committee to the recommendations of the Royal Commissioners and of a Committee of the House of Commons. I have no intention, I assure the noble Lord, of offering any factious opposition to his Bill, but I think some explanations are necessary with reference to it.


said, he should certainly move to-night that the Speaker leave the chair. It was impossible he could consent to postpone it.


remarked that he had understood, from what had fallen from the Treasury bench, that the Public Offices Extension Bill would not be proceeded with until the Committee of Supply had voted the sum of money necessary for the purpose. On that question coming under the consideration of the House, he had given notice that he intended to move for a Commission upon the subject, which Motion he should certainly persist in.


said, that as respected the alteration contemplated to be made by the Public Extension Bill between Fludyer Street and Charles Street, the Bill had passed through Committee on the express understanding that nothing further should be done in the matter until the money had been voted in Supply; and that understanding would be faithfully adhered to.


hoped that the noble Viscount would postpone the consideration of this important question, which involved an enormous outlay, till next Session. He objected altogether to an item of between £200,000 and £300,000 being placed on the Estimates at this late period of the Session for such a purpose.


I will endeavour to answer the various questions which have been put. If my hon. Friend who has just sat down alludes to the largo plan, called the block plan, I can assure him the Government have no intention of asking the House to proceed with a plan that would involve an expenditure of several millions, without the fullest discussion; there is no intention to proceed with that plan immediately. That which is of importance is to build three offices for the Foreign, the War, and the Collonial Departments, the present buildings being exceedingly ill-adapted and out of repair. The hon. Member (Mr. Hadfield) opposite asks what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with respect to certain Bills now before the House. With respect to the Probate and Divorce Bills, Her Majesty's Government consider those Bills of great importance. They have long been before Parliament in one shape or another, and I trust the House will give time and attention to those measures in the present Session. If the Divorce Bill, the second reading of which my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General moves to-night, is disposed of, we shall proceed to-morrow with the Probate Bill. If we are unfortunately disappointed in that hope, we shall go on to-morrow with the Divorce Bill. There are other Bills—law Bills—sent down by the House of Lords, which I must ask this House to deal with in the same manner as the House of Lords has dealt with them. They are the result of very long and laborious investigations by the Statute Law Commission, and contain the consolidation of the existing law upon several subjects. If this House will follow the example of the House of Lords and adopt these Bills, trusting to the fidelity of the Commission in having made a real consolidation of the existing law, we shall then be able to make a great step towards the legal arrangement of statutes. But it is manifest that if the House will insist on going through those Bills clause by clause, as if they were new enactments, the task will be endless, and the prospect of their being passed either now or at any other time, of course, hopeless. I hope the House will be disposed to take them upon trust as a faithful consolidation of the existing law without any change or additions, and, having taken and passed them as such, make them the foundation of future legislation. My noble Friend (Lord John Russell) has remarked upon the Resolution of the House of Lords, fixing a specific day after which they will not take up the first or second reading of any Bills, except in cases of urgency or under peculiar circumstances. My noble Friend must recollect that this is no new practice of the House of Lords. I rather think it is a practice which began at the time he was at the head of the Government. [Lord JOHN RUSSELL: After a six months' sitting.] Exactly, but then my noble Friend measures the propriety of the period in reference to the commencement of the Session. I think a more reasonable standard would be in reference to the end of the Session. Though it is very true May bears the same relation to the commencement of an ordinary Session as August does this year, yet May does not stand in the same position to the end of the Session ns we all hope August does. Her Majesty's Government did not feel that they were justified in making any opposition to a practice which has so long prevailed, although they did get about a week beyond the time at which their Lordships intimated their intention to finish business. I am sure the House of Lords will, as in other Sessions, waive the strictness of the rule in any case where it is shown to be an important subject, or, upon a point of time, there is good reason to depart from it.


asked the President of the Board of Control whether the Government intended to send any more forces to India?


said, that he must warn the Government that they must not expect a two ready acquiescence in the Bills which had come down from the consolidation Commissioners, as there had been no time to consider them. Last year eight Bills were laid upon the table of the House of Lords. In his judgment they were exceedingly imperfect, and he presumed they had been considerably altered. He did not know, but he was informed that there were considerable alterations made with respect to some of the offences included in those Bills. For his part, he could see but little use in these Consolidation Bills; if they were mere consolidations of the law they were useless, because in the text books used by lawyers the law was consolidated ready to their hand. If they were amendments of the law it was not becoming of the House to take thorn upon any one's authority and pass thorn blindfold; they ought therefore to be received with the strictest caution and examined with the greatest minuteness.


was understood to say that the Bills referred to did alter the law, and make the distinction broader between the law in Ireland and the law in England.

Motion agreed to. Resolved, That upon Tuesday next, and on every succeeding Tuesday during the present Session, Government Orders of the Day shall have precedence of Notices of Motion.