HC Deb 24 August 1860 vol 160 cc1783-9

said, he rose to move a Resolution of which he had given notice on the subject of the Friday evening debates. He had given notice of two Resolutions, but it was his intention only to move the first. The two Resolutions were:—"1. That, on the question of Adjournment from Friday to Monday, all discussion shall be confined to Questions relating to the intended business of the following week, or to matters of public urgency demanding immediate attention. 2. Whenever it is moved and seconded by Members who have not spoken during the Debate, that the Debate be now closed, Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put such Question, and, if agreed to, shall immediately proceed to put the original Question." The House, be need not remind them, had that very day sat seven months; and he was much afraid that if they were to ask the public what had been done during these seven months, the answer would be, little or no good. He did not say the Session had been destitute of all good, for they had confirmed a very valuable treaty, so far as it went, with France, and they had much improved the tariff; but they had let slip through their hands certain Bills which the public expected would have become law—one in particular with regard to the Amendment of the representation, and another for the improvement of the bankruptcy and insolvency laws. Great disappointment prevailed among the commercial classes that the latter measure had not been passed. What, then, was the cause of so little being done? It appeared to him that Mr. Speaker was helpless, that the Government was helpless, and that the. House was helpless under the present regulations; and the House would not be blameless if it did not attempt to correct the evil. He believed the only true course was to go back to the old system that prevailed in the House. It was only within these few years that the present system with regard to questions on the Motion for Adjournment till Monday had come into practice. During the time of the Speakership of Mr. Manners Sutton and Mr. Abercromby no such system prevailed. It originated with the late Speaker, who gave permission to hon. Members to raise all kinds of questions on the Motion for Adjournment. The only object he could see in bringing forward these questions was that they made hon. Members appear before their constituents exceedingly active with regard to matters that had a bearing on the incidents of the day. Taking a common-sense view of the matter, what was the object in allowing any question to be raised on the Motion for Adjournment? This practice was formerly permitted in order that any question might be asked relative to the business of the ensuing week, and also upon any matter of great public urgency that would not keep. If, for example, there bad been a great disturbance in the country, or if the Government had been guilty of an unconstitutional act, or if some important matter relative to foreign policy arose, then an hon. Member was permitted to ask a question about it on the Motion for the Adjournment to Monday. But now, there was no sort of question, either upon colonial, foreign, or borne affairs—ranging, in fact, from our Indian Empire to the ride in Kensington Gardens—that was not put on the paper on the Motion for adjournment. What was the consequence? The House was sometimes occupied until half-past 11 o'clock at night in discussing questions whether at its rising it should adjourn to Monday. What then became of the right to ballot upon notices-of Motion? Why, the notice day was done away with, the usual notices of Motion being superseded and set aside by these questions. Speeches were made upon topics which were so far from being of pressing urgency that notice was given of them three weeks before. The evil ought to he obviated by restoring the old rule. He remembered being himself called to order by Mr. Manners Sutton for putting on Friday some question upon tithe commutation. Mr. Manners Sutton ruled that he was going beyond his right, because the question was not one of public urgency. The Motions generally made were of the most ad captandum nature, and a few hon. Members, wishing to show their activity to their constituents, seemed to be always putting questions. But he wanted Jo know where the practice would stop, for if twenty Members had a right to put questions, so had 200; and then how would the public business go on Look at the hours wasted and the Bills that might be passed while Members were talking on this very adjournment question. Five or six hours every night during the whole Session had been occupied in this way. Recently a change had been made by which Thursday became a Government day, and Friday was devoted to notices of Motion. But that, instead of rectifying the abuse, only made it worse, for hon. Members now thought they had a right to encroach on the lime that ought to be devoted to notices of Motion. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) brought forward, early in the Session, a Motion that the House at its rising should adjourn as a matter of course until Monday, unless it should otherwise order. The Government said that was a reasonable proposition, but that it would be better to rely upon the good sense and good taste of the House. It was, however, clear that in relying on the good sense and good taste of hon. Members the House was relying upon a broken reed. The time of the House was the time of the public, and it ought not to be wasted by all the foolish balderdash and nonsense that was inflicted upon the House on Friday nights. He trusted that the Government would accede to his Resolution.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, on the Question of Adjournment from Friday to Monday, all discussions shall be confined to Questions relating to the intended business of the following week, or to matters of public urgency demanding immediate attention.


said, he quite agreed with his hon. Friend that it behoved the House to consider the subject with attention, and that they ought to make up their minds definitively whether the present practice should be continued or not. The question was one not merely for the Government but for the whole House to consider, since it had an important bearing on the efficiency of the House for the despatch of business, affecting as it did nearly the whole of one out of the five days in the week devoted to public business. Something had been done however during the Session. The Motion of his right hon. Friend (Mr- Bouverie) that no Motion for adjournment should be put on Friday underwent a great deal of discussion. It was negatived by 166 to 48, so that the opinion of the House was declared in favour of maintaining the present Motion of adjournment. Thursday afterwards became an Order Day for Government business, and Friday was given up to Notices of Motion. After some experience the Mouse came to the conclusion that the change was a wholesome one, and conducive to the despatch of public business. It had therefore been converted into a Standing Order. A short time since his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. W. Ewart) brought forward a series of Resolutions, with regard to the despatch of public business, which were withdrawn on the understanding that a Select Committee should be appointed next Session to which this subject should be referred. If it should be the pleasure of the House to appoint such a Committee next Session, one of the first matters that must occupy its attention would be the great amount of time taken up by the debates on the Friday adjournments. One of the inconveniences of the present system was that hon. Members who came clown at 7 o'clock for the business of the evening were detained until 9 or 10 before it came on. That was a greater inconvenience to private Members than to Members of the Government; because, whatever the business transacted, the latter were usually in the House, whereas private Members took an interest in particular questions, and it would be a great convenience to them to know within a certain margin when the business of the night would come on. A perfect farrago of questions were put on the most miscellaneous subjects, and great confusion arose from the fact that two or three questions were sometimes put to the same Minister. If he answered one, he could not speak again without the consent of the House; and if he waited till the end of the evening, that he might answer them altogether, the earlier questions were forgotten. Thus confusion became worse confounded, and either course was productive of inconvenience. An hon. Member had, in a recent debate, raised a laugh by quoting a series of questions put by the Civil Service Commissioners, If any hon. Member would read a list of the questions put upon the Motion for adjournment, he would be equally successful in creating merriment in the House, for they were put down in such a manner as to be far from conducive either to the transaction of public business or to the credit or character of the House. With regard to the Motion before the House, he could understand a proposal that no Motion should be made for adjournment on Friday, but when his hon. Friend proposed that the discussion on Friday should be confined either to the intended business of the ensuing week or to matters of public urgency, he could not help thinking that such a rule would lead to considerable inconvenience. He should have thought that if there was any class of questions which it was not desirable to discuss, it was the business of the ensuing week, because an hon. Member who did so might take a general view of all the Orders as well as the Notices of the Week. As to the phrase "matter of public urgency," it was so vague that he feared much time would be lost in discussing what was a matter of urgency. If the House should alter its practice, it would be better to do so by some rule not so difficult of construction or open to so much ambiguity. He trusted that the Committee to be appointed early next Session would consider this among other subjects. He was, however, satisfied that the House in its present thin state was not fitted to decide upon so important a matter, and one which had already been discussed without result. He did not see any leading-Members of the Opposition in their places, but they would naturally wish to take part in such a debate, and would have reason to complain if such a Motion were earned in their absence. He trusted, therefore, that his hon. Friend would not press his Motion.


said, he fully concurred in the remarks of his right hon. Friend, but could not allow one observation of the hon. Member for Finsbury to pass unchallenged. The hon. Member described the treaty with France as beneficial. He was, unfortunately, prevented from attending at the time when the treaty was under discussion, and was therefore in no way responsible for it. So far from being a beneficial treaty, it was, he believed, the worst and most injurious that this country had ever made. The feeling which at the first prevailed in certain parts of the country in favour of it had totally vanished, and he knew that it had been the ruin of hundreds of his own constituents. The provisions of the treaty with regard to silk had destroyed the whole trade of Coventry, and had thrown that populous neighbourhood into a state of distress which he could not fully describe. The treaty was altogether onesided and unjust. We had given up everything and received nothing, and unless some alterations were made its bane- ful effects would be found spreading over the whole country.


said, he had been unwilling to interrupt the hon. Member, but he was at a loss to see the relevancy of his remarks to the question before the House.


said, he was merely replying to an observation which had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury.


said, that as he had introduced, at an early period of the Session, a Motion on the subject of the debates raised on the putting of the question of the Friday Adjournment, he hoped the House would allow him to make a few observations on the subject which had just been brought under their notice by the hon. Member for Finsbury. He believed that many hon. Members who had upon that occasion voted against his proposal would at present be prepared to support it, in consequence of the experience they had since had of the working of the practice against which it was directed. That experience had shown that they had opened a door for a prolonged miscellaneous conversation which really impeded the business of the country. The Motion for the Adjournment of the House from Friday to Monday was, except at the close of the Session, a mere matter of course, and his suggestion was that no special Motion should be required for following their ordinary practice. He had taken the trouble to look into the record of discussions kept in the Members' waiting-room, and found that no fewer than 85 hours—or, reckoning a working day at 7 hours, 12 days—had been spent during the Session in discussions on the question of Adjournment, which in 99 cases out of a 100 were a mere waste of time. Had that time been devoted to the business of the country they would have been enabled to discuss fully and properly many measures of great public importance which had been postponed to the last weeks of the Session, and agreed to without sufficient consideration. He hoped that the experience of the Session would lead hon. Members to give a more favourable ear to the proposal he had formerly made, if he should bring it forward again.


said, he believed that a great source of inconvenience would be removed if all the Members who desired to obtain information from a particular Minister would put their questions to him consecutively. But he did not think it would be wise to abolish altogether the practice of raising discussions on the Motion for the Friday Adjournments. He felt persuaded that they were able to procure in that way a vast amount of information which the country wished to obtain.


said, he hoped the House, in making a change would not pass from one extreme to the other. He believed that for the purpose of eliciting information on urgent questions and on the order of public business the Friday evening conversation was very useful. The abuse consisted in hon. Members unfairly availing themselves of that opportunity to introduce important questions which ought to be the subjects of substantive Motions. He trusted that some check would be placed on that abuse, but he believed it was desirable to retain the privilege, on the Motion for Adjournment, of putting questions, and at the same time of explaining them, which was not allowed on other nights.


said, he would withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.