HC Deb 02 April 1860 vol 157 cc1720-40

said, that in the absence of his noble Friend Viscount Palmerston, he wished to move, that upon Thursdays after Easter, and till Whitsuntide, Government Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed,— That upon Thursdays, after Easter and till Whitsuntide, Government Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions.


said, he had no wish to embarrass the Government in the conduct of the public business, and was convinced that difficulties had been thrown in their way which would shortly render necessary the adoption of some remedial measures; but at the same time he thought that it was rather early in the Session for the Ministry to take possession of Thursday, which was one of the only two days a week that independent Members had for their Motions. He observed that the Motion was not to take possession of Thursdays till the end of the Session, but only those intervening between Easter and Whitsuntide. The fact, however, was that practically the Thursdays after Whitsuntide were of no value whatever to private Members, because they had not the slightest chance of getting through with any measures which were not in an advanced state at that time, seeing that they would only have the Wednesdays on which to discuss them. A practice had arisen in the House which had met with great favour, the discussing many public questions on the Motion of the adjournment from Friday to Monday, and the Government had shown an evident disinclination to interfere with it. He could not, however, but think that that practice must cause considerable inconvenience to the Government in retarding the transaction of business, and, if it continued, it would soon be necessary to adopt some arrangement for the more equal division of the time of the House between the Government and independent Members. During the last few weeks the Government, instead of having two evenings a week for their business had only had Mondays and three or four hours on Friday. On Friday last, for instance, the debate upon the adjournment of the House lasted so long that the Bills of the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not come on until 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning, when they were considered so hurriedly that he believed sundry errors had crept into them. He was of opinion, under these circumstances, that some better arrangement would have to be made for the conduct of public business; but at the same time he thought that it was only fair to private Members that the proposition now made by the noble Lord should be deferred till a later period of the Session.


said, that he very much agreed in the views which had been expressed by the hon. and gallant Member. There was no precedent for taking Thursdays away from independent Members until after Whitsuntide, and he did not wish to create one. If they gave the Government too much time, they might be disposed to bestow less care and attention upon their measures. He admitted that independent Members frequently occupied too much time on Friday evenings, but thought that some arrangement might be made to meet that evil. The Government now had Mondays, Fridays, and Wednesdays—["No, no!"] Well, then, he would say Mondays and Fridays; they had the same right of balloting for Tuesdays and Thursdays as was enjoyed by other hon. Members, and they had this advantage, that they had greater facilities for keeping a House, though on a recent occasion even they had not found that task a very easy one. The only object of the Government in taking these Thursdays must be to gain more time for their measures. He thought, however, the Government had already too much time given to them, and that they would not require more if their measures were better considered and more matured. There were certainly exceptions in that respect. For instance, the Budget, which, in his opinion, was a great and well-considered measure, had not occupied more time than was absolutely necessary, and was now pretty far advanced. Another great measure, the Bankruptcy Bill, had been so well considered and matured by the Attorney General that it had passed its first two stages without opposition. Had the amendment of the representation of the people been as well considered, and the views of persons both in and out of that House concerning it as well ascertained, he believed that a measure upon the subject—he did not say one that would have satisfied all parties, but one that would have been generally acceptable to the country—might have been passed in a fortnight. He was afraid the Reform Bill would occupy months in Committee, and perhaps fail to give satisfaction after all. He thought the Government should not seek to deprive private Members of Thursday till after Whitsuntide. He should take the sense of the House on the Motion.


said, he was sorry to hear the hon. Member say that he should take the sense of the House on the Motion, but he hoped at all events he would reserve his own vote until he was convinced that the request of the Government was an unreasonable one. The demand which the Government had made was really one prompted by a sense of public duty and public convenience, as well as by a regard to the state of public business. So far as his recollection went, there was no charge he had heard more frequently, and he must add very often more justly, brought against administrations than the charge that, by introducing very important measures at a very late period of the Session, they rendered it impossible for the House to give them due attention, and so had caused unnecessary delay in legislation. Now, whatever might be said of the measures of the present Government, it must be admitted that they had taken some pains to bring forward, at the very outset of the Session, the most important measures which they intended to submit to Parliament. How did those measures stand. The hon. Member had said that the Reform Bill would occupy a month in Committee: but was that not one reason for taking time to discuss it? He had also said truly that the Attorney General had devoted great pains to the consideration of the Bankruptcy Bill; but he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) believed it to be the expectation of his right hon. and learned Friend that that Bill, however well matured it might have been, must necessarily, from its very nature, occupy a considerable portion of the time of the House in Committee. It was obvious that that Bill, unless sent to the House of Lords at a comparatively early period of the year, would not pass into law during the present Session, because the noble and learned Lords who guided the deliberations of that House would naturally take part in the question, and would require ample time for its consideration. It was true that owing to the great kindness of the House very considerable progress had been made in the measures of finance, but at the same time he could not calculate upon requiring less than from four to six entire evenings after Easter, to get rid of the various questions which still remained for discussion in connection with the Wine Licences Bill, with some particulars of the Paper Duty, with the question of the Malt drawbacks, and several other questions. It must also be remembered that the House was in a very backward state as regarded Supply. They had had only one or two evenings given to Supply, and it would be absolutely necessary that the House should devote several evenings before Easter to the subject. What was the available time at the disposal of the Government? He had listened with interest to the sanguine views of the hon. Member, who said that the Government in addition to Mondays and Fridays, had virtually got Wednesdays and Tuesdays and Thursdays. If he could be shown they had got even a moiety of that very sanguine estimate the Government would have no reason to complain. He admitted that on two occasions the Government had occupied a portion of Thursday—once for some hours with the Bankruptcy Bill, and again for about an hour and a half with the Reform Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: The Tenant-right Bill.] It was likewise true that the Tenant-right Bill was introduced at a late hour on Thursday last. But on an average it would appear that the time which had been really at the disposal of the Government was only one evening and a half each week. The business of the Friday previous commenced, so far as the Government were concerned, at eight o'clock, when half the night was gone. The Government business of the preceding Friday commenced at nine o'clock, when more than half the night was gone. They had been obliged to compensate themselves for the many inroads upon their time by seeking for scraps and fragments at the end of other evenings. Members were kept until the latest hour on Friday evenings waiting for the Government business, until a miscellaneous, he was going to say, farrago, but he would say assemblage of subjects, had been disposed of in the singular manner in which they were commonly disposed of upon such occasions. Between Easter and Whitsuntide there were bit five weeks available for discussion, which represented, even taking the sanguine estimate of two nights a week, ten nights available for the Government. Now, several nights would have to be given to the Estimates, from four to six would be required for the financial measures; the Bankruptcy Bill must be got into Committee before Whitsuntide; and something, he presumed, must be allowed for the second reading of the Reform Bill. He confidently submitted that he had made out a good case for that additional time, amounting to about five days, which the Government wanted between Easter and Whitsuntide.


said, he was always disposed to accede to the requests of the Government for facilitating the progress of business, but at the same time it did occur to him that on the present occasion the request had not been brought forward and supported by those reasons which ought to induce the House to agree to it. In the first place, the Motion was made without the noble Lord who moved it condescending to offer a single reason in its favour. Since then the Chancellor of the Exchequer had brought his great powers of argument to support it; but, after all, what was the result of the argument the right hon. Gentleman had used? It was neither more nor less than this—that independent Members ought really to have no days at all. That was the legitimate conclusion, and no doubt the Government business I would be in a much more advanced and satisfactory state if hon. Gentlemen had no privileges at all on two days of the week. There was, indeed, one argument of a more limited character in favour of the Motion, and that was, that at present the Government suffered very much from the arrangement which subsisted with regard to Friday. But he begged to remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was the head of his own Government, the leader of that House, who opposed the Motion which would have put an end to that which many hon. Gentlemen thought a great inconvenience and an abuse. He agreed, on the whole, though with conditions, to the course taken by the noble Viscount; but it was not open to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the part of the Government, to complain now of the conduct of the House with respect to proceedings on the Motion for adjournment on Friday, when the Government, by their principal representative, had decided that the existing arrangement was convenient to the House and advantageous to the conduct of public business. After all, generally speaking, had the Government any right to complain of the manner in which their business had been received by the House? They had brought forward measures of considerable importance, which met with opposition from the majority of the Gentlemen who sat on the other side of the House on principle, and legitimate opportunities were taken to oppose them on principle, but the House studiously refrained from embarrassing the Government on matters of detail, because they thought that, having decided by a large majority on the principle of the measure, and there being many difficulties of detail, it would be unfair to take advantage of those difficulties. In consequence of this great progress had been made in the measures, and it did appear to him somewhat unreasonable that hon. Gentlemen should now be asked to give up their privileges on Thursdays in the interval between Easter and Whitsuntide, when it was remembered that the Government had not only been treated with great moderation on the part of the House, but also had availed themselves, he believed, on four occasions, of those very nights. As independent Members had not yet had fair opportunity of bringing forward many Motions which they might think important, and had given up many of their opportunities without demurring, he thought it unreasonable that they should he deprived of further opportunities in the interval between Easter and Whitsuntide. Therefore it was, he conceived, his duty, though he performed it somewhat reluctantly, to oppose the Motion.


said, he must admit that all the important measures brought forward by the Government this Session—he might perhaps mention one exception—had been met by the House in a spirit of fair discussion, and that no delay had been interposed beyond that which was necessary to enable hon. Members to express their opinions. He disclaimed therefore altogether the notion that this Motion was brought forward in any spirit of complaint. Possibly, in the case of the exception he had referred to—the Reform Bill—the Government might have some reason to complain of the manner in which the second reading had been opposed, but really this proposition was not made in the interest of the Government, but rather in that of the House. It mattered but little to the Members of the Government, who were compelled to be in town the greater part of the year, how Ions the Session lasted, but it was to the interest of the public service, and in an imperial sense to the interests of the House itself that the business of the Session should not be unnecessarily delayed. It was in accordance with the ordinary practice for the House at a later period of the Session to adopt the arrangement which they were now asked to assent to, and the only difference in the present instance was that the House was asked to give that assent somewhat earlier than usual. But the reason was obvious: the circumstances of the Session were exceptional—there was an unusual pressure of public business, which it was necessary to get through—and it was for the House to take its choice, either to give the Government the Thursdays for that purpose, or to sit till a later period. There was this Session, much earlier than usual, a large accumulation of important measures which it was essential to the public service should be proceeded with, and the proposition therefore was in fact offering to the House the means of getting through that business, which must be got through, at a period of the year which would suit the convenience of hon. Members generally, so that they might be enabled to bring the Session to a close at a time beyond which hon. Members wished not to remain in town. Hon. Gentlemen had spoken of the time which the Government had for proceeding with the public business of the country as compared with that which was at the disposal of private Members of the House; but the real fact was that the Government had only the Monday and about half of the Friday which they could call their own, while private Members had the Tuesday, the Wednesday, the Thursday, and the privilege of raising discussions upon the Motion of adjournment to the Monday—one-half in fact of the Friday. Now he must say, with all respect for the House, and with every regard for the privileges of private Members, that this was a most unequal division of the public time. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that he (Viscount Palmerston) refused when a Motion was brought forward for that purpose on a former occasion to interfere with that faculty or power which private Members possessed of bringing forward Motions on the question of the adjournment of the House from the Friday to the Monday. That was quite true, and he did so because he thought it undesirable to interfere with the privilege which, by the established usages of the House, hon. Members had of bringing forward important questions of pressing interest on that day, which otherwise they might find it difficult to bring to the attention of the House; and though he must say that that privilege had been rather largely used of late, he did not think it would be wise on that ground to abolish it. The Government, nevertheless, did not propose to interfere with that privilege, but only on the ground of the pressure of public business, in some degree consequent upon the extensive use which had been made of that privilege during the present Session, to take, with the consent of the House, one other day, on which those measures which were of general public importance should be proceeded with. After the explanation of his right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) of the measures which would have to be gone through between this and Whitsuntide, and, considering that it only proposed a temporary arrangement, he hoped the House would consent to the Motion.


observed that in reference to the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury that there had been one exception to the mode in which the Government business had been suffered to proceed, he (Sir J. Pakington) must remark that the Reform Bill was the one measure of all others to which no complaint could apply; and if that measure had lingered in its progress the Government must admit that the fault did not lie with the Opposition. The noble Lord could not suppose that in the case of a Bill of that importance the House would proceed to the second reading at once and without discussion. He had been led by a person connected with the Government to expect, that if the debate on that measure was not resumed last week it would be resumed this week; at any rate the delay had not rested with the Opposition, but with the Government, and it had been their own plan to postpone that discussion till the day for which it now stood. With respect to this Motion, he must observe that the Government had already had the greatest number of Thursdays during the present Session for proceeding with their own business. Tuesdays and Thursdays were considered as days set apart for private Members; but the Government had already, to a considerable degree, trenched upon this right. He would remind the noble Lord that this was a matter which lay very much in the hands of the Government themselves. If the system of desultory conversations on the Fridays was to continue, it ought, for the sake of the Government and of the transaction of public business, to be placed under some restriction, for nothing was more unsatisfactory than the way in which private Members, under the mere pretext of the Motion for adjournment, monopolized half the Government evening with discussions so ill-conducted that it was almost impossible to understand what was talked about. This was a matter which the Government should consider before they proposed to encroach on the rights of independent Members. He trusted the Government would not press the present Motion, but defer taking the Thursdays until after Whitsuntide.


said, that considering the many assaults which had been made by successive Governments upon the privileges of private Members, he thought that they would do well to make a stand and resist this Motion. It would be a dangerous precedent to depart from the practice which had so long prevailed without a special reason being given. At the same time he admitted that the Government Friday had been rather unscrupulously encroached upon, but some provision might be made for the more regular conduct of business on that evening.


said, it appeared to him that the Government had not made out any case in support of the proposal of the noble Lord. The Government said they had been prompted in their proceeding by a sense of public duty; but the noble Lord admitted that there had been no unnecessary delay, and the fact was the Government had encumbered themselves with too much business, and had miscalculated the time necessary for getting through the business which they desired to transact. The fault must lie with themselves, and it was most unfair on their part to propose a new mode of dealing with their own difficulty. The noble Lord said that this was only a temporary arrangement, but what the noble Lord called a temporary arrangement would possibly pass into a most dangerous precedent and ultimately become the practice of the House. The principal point to which he meant to advert was, that the whole tendency of the practice of Governments drawn from both sides of the House had been for some time past to stifle the right of independent Members. He hoped the House would not accede to this proposal, and that private Members, on the contrary, would be induced to compare the time now at their disposal with the time which used to be allotted to them some years since. Then Gentlemen could raise a debate on a petition as well as upon almost every question. That right had, however, been extinguished, and it was matter for consideration whether independent Members should not now claim the restoration of their old privileges.


said, he thought that there was nothing unreasonable in the request of the Government. What was it that they asked? They merely asked that four Thursdays between this and Whitsuntide should be given to the public business. It was urged that it would be an exception to their usual practice; but was not this an exceptional Session? They had the Reform Bill to discuss, and if the proposal of Government was not acceded to they might sit until December.


said, he doubted very much whether the noble Lord, if the arrangement suggested were agreed to, would advance the Government business. The Government, in his opinion, would do much better if they gave up the Fridays to private Members, and took the Thursdays themselves. By this means they would avoid the loss of time consequent on the miscellaneous discussion on the ordinary Friday Motion for adjourning the House to the Monday.


said, he thought that, under present circumstances, looking to the exceptional amount of business before the House, the Motion was a reasonable one; but it should be understood, if granted, that it was not to be converted into a precedent. [Laughter]. Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but he (Mr. Clay) should certainly be content with the assurance of the Prime Minister that no precedent would be made of the Motion.


said, the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel French) had described this as an exceptional Session. So, in one sense, it was; though not perhaps in the sense in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman intended; because there had not for many years past been a Session in which so much time, which should be at the disposal of independent Members, had been in practice appropriated by the Government. Turning back to the last few weeks, he found that on Thursday, the 1st of March, there was a discussion on Customs' Duties; on March 8, the Address in favour of the Treaty was moved; on the 15th, there was another debate and a division on the Customs' Duties, and the Bankruptcy Bill was introduced; on Thursday the 22nd, there was a discussion on the Reform Bill; and on the 29th, one upon the Income Tax and Stamp Duties. There had absolutely not been one Thursday from the beginning of the Session down to the present time, of which a part at least had not been devoted to Government business. The demand made by the Government was an exceptional one, for which, at this time of the year, there was no precedent within his Parliamentary recollection. Nor was there any justification for such a demand in the state of business. Parliament had begun to sit considerably earlier than usual; the Government—and he said it to their credit—had taken the earliest opportunity of bringing on the most important business of the year; and their financial business was in a state of greater progress than usual at this time of year. On what ground, then, did this demand rest? Generally, it was true, the Civil Service Estimates had been presented before April; and it was not usual to have one set of Army Estimates submitted, and then withdrawn that others might be substituted in their place. But there was no good reason for acceding to the Motion, which, as had been said, would be set up as a precedent hereafter. If independent Members too easily surrendered their Thursdays, then they would not he likely to get them at a similar period another year. As to the discussions on the adjournment which took place on Friday evenings, if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) were again to submit his Motion on this subject, it would meet with a very different reception from that accorded to it before. But he believed it to be the general feeling on both sides of the House that such a demand as was now made, could not reasonably be pressed upon the House.


said, he would remind his noble Friend (Lord Stanley), that when the Government had taken Thursday evenings for forwarding their measures it was after the notices of Motions had been disposed of—a course to which he could hardly conceive any objection could be made. He would ask the House to consider the important change which had of late taken place in regard to the amount of legislative business which the Government were called upon to undertake and conduct through Parliament—a change which was by no means conducive to the progress of business. According to the old custom, the Government hardly ever brought in any measures. They proposed their Budget and their Estimates at a certain time; but there the duty of the Government ended, and Members who wished to bring in measures on any subject did so. Of late years, however, as everybody knew, the House had insisted that the Government should take up any important subject which happened to require legislation. He had tried in vain to resist the pressure; but the House had always said in such cases, "This is a question for the Government, and it will be disgraceful in them if they do not deal with it." In that way one subject after another was forced upon the Government, and the result was to throw upon them the responsibility of preparing and passing through Parliament at least ten times as many measures as they were formerly required to undertake. But while the amount of labour had been increased by the compulsory pressure of the House, there was on the other hand a diminution in the time during which it must be performed, and as his noble Friend had shown, of the business days of which the week consisted one and a half only went to the Government, the other three and a half being, according to the practice of the House, taken up by private Members. Thus the Government which had three-fourths of the whole legislative business of Parliament in its hands, was left with only one-fourth of the time. His hon. Friend (Mr. Rich) thought the present arrangement satisfactory, because it was the old established practice. Now, what was the working of this old established practice? A number of important Bills were brought in by the Government at an early period of the Session—take as an instance the Bankruptcy Bill; it was brought forward with great applause, it was afterwards read a second time with still greater applause. In Committee, however, it would very probably be found that the few objections which had been raised on the second reading would swell out immensely. Points deserving of careful consideration would be raised. The House would take great pains in order to settle the clauses in such a way as should be most satisfactory to the commercial community. Much time would necessarily be consumed in this way, the Government having meanwhile to carry the Estimates and transact the ordinary business of the year; and perhaps, in the month of July the Bill would pass a third reading. It would then be sent up to the House of Peers, where it would be declared impossible for the law Lords at such a time of year to attend to so many details; and the whole time of this House as well as the legislative skill and ability which bad been bestowed upon the measure would thus be utterly wasted. The Government simply wished to improve the system under which the business of the House was conducted. They thought it would be desirable, instead of having discussions upon a variety of subjects leading to no definite conclusion, to have a system established under which the attention of the House would be directed to the substantial legislation of the country. If, however, such a proposition were objected to, he thought that the suggestion of the hon. Member for Kent (Mr. Deedes), would be an improvement upon the present practice, because the Government could then get Thursdays for their own business instead of Fridays, which would be given to the House. At present the Government were only able to obtain a portion of the Friday.


said, he would beg leave to suggest a plan by which the Government could get their measures forward between Easter and Whitsuntide without disturbing the established rules o the House. The noble Lord spoke smilingly and mysteriously of a certain important measure that had been postponed from day to day. He presumed that the measure regarding the representation of the people was the one alluded to. But how was it that a measure affecting the constitution of the country should be received with such indifference, and in such an apathetic and sneering manner by all parties inside and outside of that House? He thought if the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs would but allow his "poor little Bill" to be dropped and buried under the floor of the House, with a requiescat in pace, everything would go on well, and there would be no tears shed over it, and the Government would have little difficulty in proceeding with their other measures.


submitted that it had been shown that the Government had monopolized almost all the Thursdays already. They had, further, the power of encroaching upon the privileges of private Members by resorting to an expedient which was sometimes adopted to arrest the progress of a measure or debate which was objectionable or inconvenient to them. Under such circumstances he did not think that the Government could fairly ask for any further accommodation from the House; above all, they had no right to ask private Members to surrender to them those few remaining privileges which they possessed. He hoped that the House would not assent to such a proposition.


said, he would remind the House that he had proposed a Resolution with a view to the transaction of the business of the House in a more convenient and orderly manner. The Government, no doubt, had two days in the week assigned to them for their business, but it could scarcely be said that they had the full advantage of those days. He thought that those days should be given to the Government without interruption. That was the object which he had in view when he had made his proposition. At the same time he was not disposed to forego the privileges already possessed by private Members. He should support any arrangement that would give the Government the full advantage of two days in the week without interruption, but at the same time he was opposed to the proposition of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie). He thought that the House was generally desirous of preserving the privileges of independent Members in submitting certain questions for consideration on Friday evenings. It was, in his opinion, most objectionable to introduce any precedents interfering with the privileges of private Members; because if they once established a precedent of the kind it would be most difficult to retract it.


said, he did not think the House had any just reason to complain of the Government proposition, when it was considered that, in addition to the two days at their disposal, hon. Members exercised largely the privilege of bringing forward questions on the Motion of adjournment to Monday. He did not think, however, that the Government would gain their object if they pressed the question against the feeling of a large minority of the House. He hoped, therefore, the Government would well consider that point before they divided the House. He, in common with some other Members, had been returned to that House for the purpose of endeavouring to reform it, and he believed the country would not be satisfied unless they brought that question to an early issue. There would only be five weeks after they met again before Whitsuntide, and unless the Bill passed that House before Whitsuntide, there would be little chance of its passing the House of Lords this Session.


said, the question had been discussed upon two grounds, which ought to be kept perfectly distinct. The one was the special ground, applicable only to the present year. The other was the general ground, applicable to the mode in which the course of business was usually conducted. In regard to the special ground, he did not think that a case had been made out for assenting to the proposition of the noble Lord. Ordinarily speaking, the financial statement of the Government was not proposed until after Easter; and all the measures consequent upon that were usually taken in the months of May and June. During the present year the financial statement had been very properly brought on at an early period, and that circumstance had apparently thrown into the background the Resolutions in Committee of Supply. In regard to financial measures they were clearly in advance, and he was inclined to think that in the general business of the country they were not more backward than in former years. Consequently, he did not think that a special ground had been made out for interfering with the right of independent Members in bringing forward their Motions on the pro- per opportunities. But he owned he was struck with the general ground urged by the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. It seemed to him that they had really come to the stage when it would be well for those who guided the deliberations of the House and his right hon. Friends on the front bench below him to consider what new mode, for the arrangement of the public business, might be conveniently adopted. When he wished to press on the Government was this—it seemed to him that unless the Government obtained the general acquiescence of the House to their proposition, they would be rather losing time in the progress of business than gaining it. He had looked at the Notice Paper for the Thursday after the holidays, and he found upon it two Notices and one Order of the Day of the Government—that for the repeal of Sir John Barnard's Act. No other business was as yet set down, and it was impossible as yet to ascertain what business might be fixed for that day besides that to which he had referred. But would they be justified, upon so short a notice, in depriving independent Gentlemen of the opportunity of discussing the two first notices already set down for the first Thursday after the Easter holidays? His opinion was that the Government ought to give notice of their intention to bring forward a proposition after Easter to consider the best mode of disposing of the business of the House on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and particularly in reference to the course of business on Fridays. He believed by that course they would facilitate business much more satisfactorily than by pressing their proposition at that moment. He doubted very much whether the Motion before the House would not occasion much disappointment amongst the independent Members of the House. He, therefore, urged upon the noble Viscount the propriety of withdrawing the present proposition, and of bringing forward a distinct proposition on the subject immediately after Easter as to the general course of business, when he believed the great body of the House would give him their support.


remarked, that he was anxious that the Government should have their two days clear for the discussion of public business, but without infringing on the rights of private Members.


said, he thought it would be necessary, if they intended to make any alteration in the course of busi- ness, that it should be made before Easter. He concurred with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole) in thinking that it would be useless to press the proposition unless with the general assent of the House, inasmuch as it was purely a question for the general convenience of the House and the public, and not one in which the Government were specially interested. He believed, however, there was a very general opinion that the practice which had grown up of taking the greater part of Friday night for the discussion of general questions should be checked, or some compensation given to the Government for the loss of time which they thereby sustained; and, if he was not mistaken, there was a very general feeling in favour of the Motion proposed a few evenings ago by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Paull). He would take the liberty of proposing an addition to the Motion of his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell), which he hoped would be acceptable to the House. It was to add the words "and that Notices of Motion have precedence of all Orders of the Day on Fridays." That proposal was, of course, limited to the time between Easter and Whitsuntide, and the effect of it would be to make an experiment for that time of the Motion proposed by the hon. Member for St. Ives.

Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "and that Notices of Motions have precedence of Orders of the Day upon Fridays."


said, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend to call upon the House to affirm his proposition at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman should first give notice of his intention to move the addition of those words. What had been stated as to the disappointment which the adoption of the Resolution would occasion to independent Members was, in his mind, a strong argument in favour of due notice being given of the proposition. He was very sorry at having unintentionally stood in the way of the adoption of the Motion of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Paull) in which he concurred, by assenting to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) to refer the question to a Select Committee. He thought the best plan would be to refer the whole case to the consideration of a Select Committee after Easter.


said, the subject was not before the House for the first time. The Motion of the hon. Member for St. Ives and that of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) had necessarily had the effect of calling attention to the subject, and he could not but think that without an inquiry by a Select Committee the House was perfectly-prepared to decide the question. He thought Government had no reason to complain of the conduct of the House this Session, seeing that a great number of Thursdays had actually been given up to them. But there was a general feeling that the time of the House was much wasted by the desultory discussions which took place on Fridays. He hoped therefore the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman would be acceded to.


observed that they had wasted an hour and a half in this discussion. He hoped that Government would accede to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole) and postpone the subject till after Easter.


said, he objected to the House being hurried into the adoption of any such changes as were proposed, and therefore he wished to urge upon the Government the propriety of withdrawing the Motion, and bringing it forward after Easter. If Thursday were made a Government day instead of Friday, it would probably come to be felt that the public business of the week was over; hon. Members would leave town, and the House would be counted out every Friday. He would suggest to the noble Lord to amend his Motion by giving all Orders of the Day precedence on Thursdays, so as to include the Bills of independent Members as well as those of the Government.


Sir, I rise to a point of order. I wish to know from you whether it is competent to the House to change a Standing Order without notice.


I do not understand this to be a Motion to change a Standing Order of the House. If this Motion were carried, the Standing Order would remain. It is only proposed to make a change for a certain number of days between Easter and Whitsuntide. I do not think, therefore that it is necessary to repeal the Standing Order for this purpose.


said, that the words of the Standing Order itself were, "unless the House should otherwise direct." Of course the addition he proposed would be a direction to the House.


said, it was the opinion of the Select Committee which sat to consider the forms and procedure of the House, that even the suspension of a Standing Order ought not to be made without notice. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley) had on Saturday drawn attention to the fact that several hon. Members who were chairmen of quarter sessions would be absent on the present occasion. Now, in the category of Members who attended quarter sessions were many hon. Gentlemen who took a most useful part in the business of the House. There were other and grave reasons why changes in the procedure of the House should not be made without notice; but upon this ground alone he should support the suggestion of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) that this change in the Standing Order ought not to be made without notice.


said, he could not consent to give up both Thursday and Friday for Government business. But the change proposed by his right hon. Friend (Sir George Grey) was in the nature of an experiment during the interval between Easter and Whitsuntide. If the experiment did not succeed the House could go back to its original practice. If, on the other hand, the change was found to be an improvement upon the present practice, if it favoured the despatch of business—if, above all, business came on when Members anticipated it would be taken, it would then be easy to make a change in the Standing Orders.

Question put, "That those words be there added."

The House divided:—Ayes 150; Noes 126: Majority 24.

Upon the Question that the Motion, as amended, be agreed to,


said, he thought that the change proposed was a very unwise one, and would tend only to prolong indefinitely the conversazione with which the House was regaled every Friday evening. It would be much better to arrange that on Fridays the Orders of the Day should be proceeded with at a specified hour, say seven o'clock.


said, he would repeat his objection, which was as strong against the Motion as a whole as it was against that portion of it which had been already adopted. The Standing Orders ought not to be changed or suspended without notice, and he would urge the House not to decide rashly a question which might seriously influence the future course of business.


thought the House had better try the utility of the Resolution just agreed to for a few weeks after Easter, and if the inconvenience which was feared really arose, he would be the first to vote against the plan.


observed that if the privileges of independent Members were curtailed by the Government, it must be expected that those Members would avail themselves of every opportunity that might present itself for the purpose of discharging their duty to their constituents. He regretted that such Motions should be forced on against the general wish of the House.


said, he wished to protest against the idea that the change was only to be an experiment, and to express his fear that if once sanctioned it would be established permanently. If independent Members were prepared tamely to submit to the arrangement proposed, they might as well put on their hats and leave the House.

Main Question, as amended, put.

The House divided:—Ayes 142; Noes 117: Majority 25.

Resolved, That upon Thursdays, after Easter and till Whitsuntide, Government Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions, and that Notices of Motions have precedence of Orders of the Day upon Fridays.


—In consequence of the vote to which the House has just arrived, considerable changes must take place in the conduct of public business. In the course of a few hours the House will adjourn, and it would be convenient if the noble Lord could give us some information as to the mode in which the public business will be conducted after Easter. I would remind the House that there are two subjects of great importance—of great interest to the House generally, but particularly important to the great Liberal party—namely, the measure for the abolition of church rates and the measure for the reform of the House of Commons. Now, it so happens that by the change which has taken place in the order of conducting the public business it is impossible for the church-rates question, which is a notice of Motion, to come on on Thursday, which has now become an Order Day, and the notice given by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for the resumption of the debate on the Reform Bill cannot now come on on Friday, the 20th, because that Order Day has been transformed into a Notice Day, Now, it would be very much to our convenience if the noble Lord would inform us when the resumption of the debate on the second reading of the Reform Bill will be taken, and also if the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Trelawny)—if he is in the House—will favour us by stating what are his intentions with regard to the third reading of the Church Rates Abolition Bill?


Sir, the arrangements proposed are, that we should take the Navy Estimates on Monday after the re assembling of the House; on Thursday the finance; and on the Monday following the second reading of the Reform Bill.


said, that there was a Bill of extraordinary length, consisting of 570 clauses before the House—the new Bankruptcy Bill—he begged to know when that would be taken?


said, he could not then answer the Question.


asked whether it would be army or Navy Estimates on the Monday?


said, they proposed to take the Navy Estimates.


said, that with regard to the Army Estimates the House had been informed that they had been delayed in consequence of the return of several regiments from India. As this must necessarily occasion great delay, he begged to ask upon what day they would be presented again?


said, that a considerable portion of these Estimates had to be reprinted, and the immense mass of figures in them took time. He would, however, lay them on the table on the first day the House met after the recess.