HC Deb 16 June 1857 vol 145 cc1935-8

said, that when the House was sitting on Wednesdays, hon. Members attending Committees were frequently unable to get to the doors in time for divisions on important questions, and the haste with which those who wished to be in time were obliged to traverse the distance from the committee-rooms was attended with some danger and great inconvenience. He hoped the House would assent to extending the time from two to four minutes on that day, for though the time lost would be very small, the gain to the 250 hon. Members now attending Committees would be very great. He therefore moved that the Standing Order on Divisions relating to turning the two-minute sandglass be repealed, and that the following Order be substituted:— That so soon as the voices have been taken, the Clerk shall turn a two-minute sandglass, to be kept on the table for that purpose, and the door shall not he closed until after the lapse of two minutes; except on Wednesdays, when the Clerk shall turn the two-minute sandglass twice, and the doors shall not be closed until after the lapse of four minutes, as indicated by such sandglass. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Standing Order on Divisions relating to turning the two-minute sandglass be repealed."


said, he thought that the hon. Member had not sufficiently considered the manner in which the Order of the House was carried out with respect to Divisions. It appeared to be assumed that the whole time allowed to hon. Members serving on Committees was from the time the glass was turned to their arrival at the door; but such was not the fact. If any hon. Member were in sight, within 100 yards, the doors remained open until he had had an opportunity of entering the House. Upon the second division last night, five minutes elapsed after the glass was turned before he could proceed to put the Question, because so many hon. Members, not expecting a division, had gone to distant parts of the building, and one after another appeared in sight. By the adoption of the proposed rule, considerable hardship would be inflicted upon private Members unconnected with the Government, who already complained that they had too short a time to enable them to carry through the Bills they might bring in. The House was frequently in Committee on these Bills on Wednesdays, and if double the present time were occupied in Divisions, a considerable deduction would have to be made from the opportunities at the disposal of independent Members to pass their Bills. It was not for him to say whether it was important that Gentlemen who had heard none of the arguments should rush in and vote at a division, or whether it was a national evil that they should be prevented from so doing. The hon. Gentleman had made out no practical grievance, and he therefore thought it undesirable to change the rule of the House.


said, he thought that the arrangements of the House on Wednesdays were very happy, but at the same time many hon. Members engaged up stairs were unable to reach the House in time for divisions. He thought that the arguments of the Chairman of Committees answered each other, because he first opposed the Motion on the ground of the time that would be lost, and then said that, instead of four minutes, as his hon. Friend proposed, five minutes were always given before the doors were closed. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman had not succeeded in proving that four minutes were longer than five. As to giving votes when hon. Members had not heard the arguments, could the right hon. Gentleman name one question on which any hon. Member's opinion had been influenced by the arguments he had heard? They had heard last night, it was true, a right hon. Gentleman on that side of the House (Sir J. Pakington) say that he had changed his opinion, but that was not in consequence of anything he had heard in that House. The case made out by his hon. Friend was so strong that he should support the Motion.


supported the Motion. He had been sitting on a Committee up stairs for three weeks, and was likely to serve for three weeks longer. He was therefore interested in the adoption of the rule, and he thought it highly unbecoming the dignity of hon. Members that they should run screaming along the lobby to prevent the door-keeper from shutting the door upon them.


reminded the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stafford) that the Motion did not apply to questions of party divisions. It referred to Wednesday, the day on which private Members' Bills were considered. Upon those an hon. Member usually exercised an unbiassed judgment, influenced but little by party considerations. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the opinion of hon. Members was ever influenced by the arguments they heard. He recollected a story of an hon. Member in former times who was asked whether he had ever heard a speech that altered his opinion. He said, "Yes, I have heard many speeches that have altered my opinion, but I have never heard one that altered my vote." That might have been the case in former times, but it would be a bad compliment to the present House of Commons to say that this was the rule that regulated their proceedings. Yet the present Motion went entirely to the adoption of this principle. The practice of the House was, that before a division, two minutes should be given to allow hon. Members to come in from the library and the lobbies. This rule assumed that they had heard the debate, although they might be absent for the moment. But to propose calmly and deliberately that hon. Members who had been the whole day in Committee-rooms, thinking of entirely different matters, who had not heard a word of the discussion, should have time given them to come down and vote upon a question of the merits of which they were wholly ignorant, was a sarcasm and burlesque upon the proceedings of Parliament. If hon. Members were to be allowed four minutes to come down from Committee-rooms, why not extend the time further, and allow time for hon. Members who were at White's, and Brookes', and other clubs, to come down to vote? He would rather see vote by proxy established, because the person who held the proxies did hear the debate, and exercised his judgment upon what he heard. He entreated the House, for the sake of the character of Parliament and the dignity of its proceedings, not to agree to a Resolution that hon. Gentlemen who knew nothing of a debate should be able to come and influence the division by their votes.


said, the arguments he had heard against his Motion made him feel extremely confident that his view was a right one. The Chairman of Committees said that when the door was open the door-keeper could see an hon. Member a hundred yards off, but the lobby was frequently so crowded with persons that it was impossible to see who was coming in, and hon. Members were sometimes physically unable to reach the door in time to vote. The noble Viscount (Viscount Palmerston) said that the House was not engaged in party questions on Wednesdays, but last Wednesday the House was occupied with some of the great constitutional questions of the Session—namely, the no-property qualification, and the other flowers of the "political bouquet," as it was called. The noble Viscount said that hon. Members who had not heard the debate were not in a fit state to vote, but the Standing Order that every hon. Member should hear the question put from the Chair implied that he was qualified to vote on hearing the question at issue put from the Chair; otherwise the House ought to refuse to allow hon. Members to vote who were in the smoking-room, the dining-room, and the library when a division was called. Hon. Members were called upon to serve on Committees up stairs, and were they to lose their right to vote on the questions before the House because six or eight minutes in the course of a Wednesday afternoon might be lost?

Question put, and negatived.