HC Deb 09 February 1860 vol 156 cc768-71

said, he rose to move the following Resolution with respect to the Motion for Adjournment on Fridays. It was not his wish, he observed, to infringe on the liberty of debate, but to introduce more regularity than at present existed on the Motion for Adjournment on Friday, and to obviate the objection raised by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) as to the desultory nature of the conversations that then took place. As the House were aware, they sometimes were compelled to travel from India to a question, perhaps, of county rates in Ireland, and then back to India again. Last Friday, for example, there were fourteen questions on the adjournment. The first was put to the Secretary for War, relative to officers of the Land Transport Corps; then came one relative to the shrubbery in Hyde-park, followed by others on a great variety of subjects; and the thirteenth question was again one addressed to the Secretary for War with regard to Militia regiments. There were important questions put to the Foreign Secretary, and several of great interest were addressed to the Secretary for India, These were all mixed together, and hon. Members were sometimes in a state of uncertainty as to the time when they should put them. The Resolution he proposed would obviate much of this inconvenience, while it would not interfere with the privilege of the Members.

Motion made, and Question proposed,— That it would tend to the regularity of Debate, on the Motion for Adjournment on Fridays, if the Clerk were instructed to place in their order on the paper, one after another, all questions to be addressed to each particular Member of the Government.


I had supposed, Sir, that some noble Lord or right hon. Gentleman, in some manner responsible for the conduct of the business of this House, would have risen to favour us with his opinion on this matter. I have not given the Motion of my hon. Friend all that consideration which, perhaps, it deserves. I have been obliged to form my opinion of it from his few observations, and while you, Sir, were giving it to us from the Chair; but it appears to me that this House ought not to adopt it. I have always supported the privilege enjoyed by hon. Members on Friday of bringing under the consideration of the House all questions of pressing and general interest, and I think it is for the public advantage not to subject that privilege to those general regulations which are so convenient for the management of our ordinary discussions. But I have always understood that a grave objection to the continuance of that indulgence was, that the inquiries made on Friday evenings were assuming the form of debates; and I have always thought that they should not take that form—that they should not interfere with the business of the evening. The proposal of my hon. Friend is, however, that they should become debates; for should you, Sir, by an artificial contrivance put them amongst the business of the House, we should have a number of debates arranged in which hon. Members might all deliver their opinions. The argument for my hon. Friend's Resolution is, that the arrangement which he proposes would tend to the regularity of debate; but I am entirely averse to the inquiries addressed to Government taking the shape of formal discussion, which the Resolution of my hon. Friend would pave the way for. We have on Friday evenings a sort of conversazione, which it is for the public advantage should be tolerated; but we should be very cautious not to allow it to deviate from that character. The Resolution of my hon. Friend would aggravate all those objections which may be fairly urged against the privilege which I have always advocated. I would, there- fore, call on the House to pause before they adopt a course which, if adopted, would lead to still greater inconvenience than that now felt, and which would still further strengthen those objections, which are not at present by any means devoid of weight, against the enjoyment of that indulgence which is now conceded to hon. Members on Friday evenings.


I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has prevented this question being formally put from the Chair, and has interposed the observations with which he has just favoured us. I should have risen immediately after the hon. Gentleman, had it not been for the feeling that it might be considered, perhaps, somewhat invidious for a member of the Government to speak on the subject before any other hon. Gentleman had had an opportunity of offering his remarks, on account of the impression—a mistaken one—which appears to prevail that the members of the Government have a sort of personal interest in shortening the Friday evening's debate and dedicating the whole of that evening to Government business, strictly so called. I have already expressed my opinion that members of the Government are the last persons who have an interest in increasing the number of hours dedicated to Government business. The right hon. Gentleman has correctly stated the object of this Motion to be to systematize the debate on the adjournment of the House. At present the notices are taken in the order in which they are put down, and if we are to maintain and extend the miscellaneous debate of Friday evening, I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's Motion would not make it somewhat more intelligible; but it would certainly tend to produce the result pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman—a disposition to convert every knot of questions, whether on India or any other subject—into a little debate. So far it would violate the present understanding that the questions put should be as much as possible in the nature of interrogatories to the Government, and gradually the night on which Orders of the Day are by courtesy supposed to have precedence of notices of Motion would be converted into a night on which notices of Motion have precedence of Orders of the Day. My disposition is to vote with the right hon. Gentleman against this classification of notices. The present system, irregular as it is, tends to prevent abuse of the privilege, and if the hon. Member goes to a division, I shall certainly vote against him.


said, of course, after such an expression of opinion, he should not attempt to divide the House upon the Question; but he desired it should be understood that his object in moving the Resolution was not that attributed to him by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), and he did not see how putting two questions together could possibly render it likely that they would change their character of interrogatory and assume that of debate.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.