HC Deb 20 April 1860 vol 157 cc2060-3

said, he wished to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether, in the event of the Reform Bill being read a second time during the present Session, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government at once to proceed with the Bill, or to agree to any Motion to refer such Bill to a Select Committee? As there would shortly be an abundant opportunity for discussing the measure, he would not abuse the indulgence of the House by making many prefatory remarks, or explaining at any length his reasons for putting this question. He trusted, however, that the noble Lord would not think for one instant that he questioned his sincerity on the Reform question, or doubted that it was his most anxious desire to proceed with the Bill. Nevertheless, it was rumoured that on the part of Her Majesty's Government there was a little apathy on the subject; and from all the external indicia, there certainly seemed to have been a struggle for precedence between the measures of the Government for political and for financial reform, in which the latter appeared to have triumphed. The House were probably aware that there had been a sort of preparation made for the Bill in "another place;" and his belief that that preparation was quite unnecessary was one of the reasons he had for putting this question. But that was not all. The hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Massey), a Gentleman whose name had necessarily great weight in this House, and than whom no one had more claims to be considered a statesman from his great historical knowledge and his experience in all questions relating to the constitution of the country—that hon. Gentleman had given notice of a Motion in the event of the Bill being read a second time to refer it to a Select Committee. It was, therefore, only just to the hon. Gentleman and to Her Majesty's Government that the House should know whether there had been any arrangement come to, or any intention formed by Her Majesty's Government to support that Motion, or whether it had originated in the independent action on the part of the hon. Member for Salford.


In answer to the question put to me by the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Lyall), I have to state that we have already represented to the Spanish Government the great advantages which they would derive from the commercial legislation of this House in the present year, without any benefit being required in return by this country from Spain. The position of the navigation laws is what the hon. Gentleman has described it to be. The repeal of the navigation laws of this country has not led to any corresponding relaxation on the part of Spain. I quite admit that that is a proper question to bring before the Spanish Government, and every endeavour will be made to induce them to adopt a more liberal policy. I shall accordingly pursue further that negotiation.

With regard to the question put by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Edwin James) I must express to him my thanks for having put that question, and for giving me an opportunity of stating the course which the Government means to take with respect to the Reform Bill. The postponement of that Bill has taken place partly in consequence of there having been very long debates on other subjects, and partly in consequence of an apprehension lest those debates should not end before the Easter holidays, and from the inutility of attempting to force on the discussion on the second reading when a great portion of the House were determined, with the holidays before them, to oppose the course. It is not in any way the apathy of the Government that has led to the postponement of the adjourned debate on the second reading, and I have now to state that that adjourned debate will come on on Monday next, when, I trust, there will not be much prolonged discussion. After the second reading, it is my intention, after a short interval—the ordinary interval between the second reading and the Committee, to ask the House to go into a Committee of the whole House on the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman further asks what the Government propose to do with regard to the Motion of which notice has been given by the hon. Member for Salford, the Chairman of the Committees of Ways and Means. It appears to me that that Motion, though not so direct and straightforward as a proposition to read the Bill a second time that day six months, is, nevertheless, a Motion intended to destroy the Bill, That Motion, therefore, will be treated by the Government as if it was a Motion to postpone for six months the second reading of the Bill, and to destroy it altogether. Our reasons for opposing that Motion, then, are obvious. It is obvious besides that the proposal of such a course as the hon. Member for Salford has given notice of would be most unusual. I do not believe that there ever has been an instance in which the principal measure of a Session has been referred to a Select Committee, it being obvious that that Select Committee would be intrusted with the alteration, and thereby the framing of the measure. In fact, that Committee would take upon itself the most important functions connected with the Executive Government. I can conceive that any Gentleman, even after the second reading of the Bill, might think it desirable to propose that the House shall enter into Committee upon it six months afterwards; but I cannot conceive that any great portion of the House will think that a Bill of this importance, which will affect the constitution of the country, and the right of voting of a great many persons, ought to be sent to a Select Committee. It is the intention of the Government, therefore, to proceed with the measure, and, after the regular interval, to move that the Bill be considered by a Committee of the whole House. In that Com- mittee of the whole House every question of an alteration of the franchise and of the number of boroughs to be partially disfranchised can be discussed. There is yet time enough for the Bill to be carefully considered, and I hope there will be sufficient time before the close of the Session for its being fully discussed in "another place."