HC Deb 22 March 1860 vol 157 cc1022-9

said, he regretted to stand in the way of the resumption of the debate on Reform; but the subject to which he was about to invite attention was one that might be discussed with much public advantage. The House had recently come to the conclusion that the right of private Members to address interpellations to the Government and call attention to subjects of pressing importance on the Motion usually made on Friday for adjournment till Monday was a privilege which, though liable to be abused, it was desirable to pre- serve. He did not now seek to re-open that question. When it was last discussed, however, an appeal was made to hon. Members not to insist on that privilege, except in regard to matters of real urgency and importance, and something like an honourable understanding was arrived at to that effect. But that understanding could hardly be said to have been strictly observed; for on the three Friday evenings which had since intervened the Motion for the Adjournment till Monday had not been consented to till past seven o'clock in one case, till nine o'clock in another, or till half-past eight on last Friday. The encroachment thus made upon one of the two nights set apart for the Government was a most serious inconvenience, and the consequence of the interruption it occasioned to public business was, that as the Session advanced they found Ministers claiming the Thursdays, and, later still, calling on the House to sit on Saturdays for the despatch of important affairs. Another effect of the practice was the prolongation of the Session till the end of August. With every respect for the legislative efforts of private Members, there was no doubt that the measures recommended in the Speech from the Throne, or proposed on the responsibility of the Government of the day, had the first claim to the careful consideration of Parliament, and were looked to with most interest by the country. If, therefore, the Government Orders had always the precedence on Thursdays instead of on Fridays, the three or four hours generally lost to the public business through the miscellaneous discussions to which he had referred would be entirely saved, and the course of legislation greatly facilitated. The hon. Member concluded by moving— That Government Orders of the Day shall take precedence of Notices of Motions upon Thursdays instead of Fridays.


regretted that the hon. and learned Member had brought forward this Motion at a time when the House was anxious to pass to other matters, and confessed that he did not like the contrivance for escaping the inconvenience of the long conversations on Friday evenings which it suggested so well as that which he had himself asked the House to adopt some weeks ago. There were many objections to making Thursday instead of Friday a Government night, among which were that there would be a great tendency to adjourning debates from Thursday to Friday; whereas exertions were now made to conclude them on Friday evening; and great danger that after an exhausting debate on Government business of importance on Thursday evening, and a conversation, entertaining or otherwise, on the Motion for Adjournment on Friday, there would invariably be a count out at an early hour, thus depriving private Members of the opportunity of bringing on their Motion for these reasons he thought that the change proposed would not be a good one, and, had this Motion come on at a more convenient opportunity, he should have been disposed to move as an Amendment the appointment, of a Committee composed of some of the leading Members of the House, to see whether they could not arrive at some solution of the difficulty. To show how the present system worked, he reminded hon. Members that at a quarter before one o'clock on Saturday morning last the House was called upon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to rote nearly £900,000 for the expenses of the China expedition. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks objected to voting so large a sum of money at be late a period of the evening; but, upon being assured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it was absolutely necessary that the money should be voted that night, he withdrew his opposition, and the Vote was agreed to, as it were sub silentio. In a previous part of the evening three hours and a half had been occupied by a miscellaneous conversation. Thus the really important business of the country was slurred over as it were sub silentio, while all the early part of the evening had been taken up with a debate upon comparatively unimportant matters. He hoped that this example would show hon. Members that there was a principle involved in this matter; but, at the same time, he thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman would consult the convenience of the House by withdrawing his Motion, which he could, if he thought it desirable, renew upon some future occasion.


said, that if there was such an objection to the Notices of independent Members on Fridays, the Government might easily remedy the evil. By not proposing the adjournment of the House on Friday until late in the evening, they would avoid the discussions complained of.


re-minded the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the Motion for the adjournment might be made by any hon. Member, and, therefore, his suggestion would not meet the difficulty. He thought that the appointment of a Committee would be the best course which the House could adopt; but he must say that he preferred this Motion to that which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) a short time ago. It was more in harmony with the rules of the House in regard to other matters. Take the case of the Committees, for instance. If a Committee met on Monday, it sat again on Thursday, and the correlative day of Tuesday was Friday. There were, no doubt, some objections to the proposition, and he thought that the most important one was that it would, to a certain degree, trench upon the time which the House at present allowed to independent Members. Upon the whole, he recommended his hon. Friend to withdraw his Motion, in which case he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bouverie), who was, perhaps, the best authority out of the chair upon forms of proceeding, would take the matter in hand, and move the appointment of a Committee, which might devise some remedy for the great inconvenience which it was intended to remove.


trusted that the House would stand by the great institution of Friday. If hon. Members would be good enough to call to mind the subjects which had been discussed on the last few Fridays, since the right lion. Member for Kilmarnock made his Motion upon this subject, they would find that by far the greater portion of them had been questions of great public interest, from the postponement of which inconvenience would have been experienced by the House and the country. He did not like the suggestion that this matter should be referred to a Committee of established authorities. It was the "established authorities" of whom he was afraid. They would like to do all they could to discourage private Members, and he was, therefore, unwilling to entrust this question to their tender mercies. It was a question for the private Members, and he hoped that they would assert their rights to the utmost. They made every concession they could to the Government by giving up their days for the discussion of questions of importance, as they were about to do that very evening; and he trusted that no further attempt would be made to diminish the limited opportunities which they at present possessed for asking questions or making Motions of pressing importance.


said, he could not attach much authority to the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock upon this question, because he had been entirely wrong with regard to it, and in nothing had he been more wrong than in representing to the House that the practice which now prevailed upon Friday evenings was a new one. He ought to know that down to the year 1848 that might have been done every day in the week which could now be done only on Fridays. Until that year, upon the Order of the Day being read, any Member might get up and delay the public business in the manner now complained of. That was put an end to in 1848, and since that period other opportunities of making Motions enjoyed by private Members had been taken I from them. Formerly, upon going into Committee of Supply, there were two such opportunities,—one was upon the Motion "That the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply," on which question every Member of the House might make a Motion and go to a division; the other upon the Question put by the Speaker, "That I now leave the chair?" on which, again any Member might make a Motion and go to a division. Both these opportunities had been given up. Now only one division could be taken before going into Committee of Supply, and after such a division no Motion could be made by any other Member. The real fact was that, as other opportunities of putting Questions to Government and bringing forward Motions had been given up, more of such Questions and Motions had become concentrated upon Fridays, and hence the practice which was now so much complained of as irregular. It was impossible that in a House constituted as that was irregularities should not occur; and it had been stated from the Chair, and also in a letter from the late Sir R. Peel, read upon one occasion by the present Speaker, that it would be hopeless to attempt to tie the House down in all its proceedings to an adherence to strict form and method. No doubt the privilege of bringing forward Questions on Friday evenings was sometimes injudiciously exercised; but the time occupied by such matters did not on the average exceed two hours; and he thought that the facilities for the despatch of business which had been afforded to the Government during the last few years were more than an equivalent for the loss of those two hours a week. The House ought to proceed in this matter with great caution, because, if they attempted to do too much, Members would find opportunities of interfering with the public business which did not now exist.


said, that the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was directed rather against the Motion of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock than against that now before the House, which did not propose to deprive Members of any opportunity of bringing their Motions before the House, but only to change the day on which they should do so. Although he was generally well disposed to this proposition, he should recommend his hon. Friend to accept the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Wilts (Mr. S. Estcourt), and not to press it to a division. It was impossible not to see that this question was surrounded with great difficulties. Care must be taken not to shorten the time at the disposal of the Government for transacting the public business, and at the same time not to interfere with the obvious right of independent Members to make Motions or ask Questions which they believed to be of pressing importance. With reference to what had been said as to counts out, he might remind the House that they had a recent instance in which a count out could not be prevented, although Members of the Government of great consequence were likely to occupy the time of the House; and it was natural to expect that such things would be of more frequent occurrence on nights devoted to private Members. Looking at all the difficulties which surrounded the subject, he recommended his hon. Friend not to press his Motion to a division.


said, he did not understand that the hon. Member for St. Ive's proposed to interfere with the right now exercised by private Members on Fridays of putting Questions to the Government, or even of raising discussions to the same extent as heretofore. The hon. Gentleman thought that the practice should be adopted of setting apart Fridays for Notices of Motion and Thursdays for Orders. At present, notwithstanding the rules of the House to the contrary, Notices of Motion had precedence both on Thurs day and Friday. The question now raised was one upon which the Government had no opinion to express. They desired, of course, to promote the transaction of public business; but beyond that they had no interest in the matter whatever, although they might think it desirable that the proposal of the hon. Member for St. Ive's should be tried as an experiment. He did not agree with the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock in thinking that the proposed alteration would be disadvantageous to private Members. At present, especially towards the end of the Session, the House was frequently counted out on Thursdays; but if the suggestion of the lion. Member for St. Ive's were adopted, the Government would be obliged to exert themselves to make a House on Friday, in order to avoid a meeting on Saturday. The hon. Member for Kent (Mr. Deedes) had stated that the House was counted out on Tuesday last, although the Government had important business on the paper. He did not know whether the hon. Member was present on that occasion, but when the first attempt was made to count out there were no fewer than ten Members of the Government in their places, although, if the House had continued sitting till the usual time of adjournment, it could not have reached the Orders of the Day.


said, he intended to Vote for the Motion in the event of a division, but after what had passed he would advise the hon. Member for St. Ive's to withdraw it for the present. He could not agree with the right hon. Member for Stroud that the present practice should not be interfered with. It was most inconvenient in many respects; it only served to delay public business; and he thought the House could not do better than remit the whole matter to a Committee for consideration.


said, it appeared to him, after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir G. Grey), that the matter had assumed a totally different character. It seemed Her Majesty's Government were prepared to reap all the benefit which could accrue to them from the Motion without taking upon themselves as a body the responsibility of supporting it. In his opinion the proposition was a direct attack against the privileges of independent Members—and he thought there was too great a tendency to try and interfere with their privileges in various ways. He thought the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Paull) had totally mistaken his position, for his object appeared to be to give every pos- sible facility in passing with the utmost rapidity the measures brought forward by Her Majesty's Government. That was a view of the case he (Mr. Bentinck) was certainly not prepared to adopt. So far from it, he thought all the measures of the Government should be amply discussed. He for one was not prepared to forego the privileges of an independent Member, and if the House now went to a division he trusted the independent Members would assert their rights. There was a practice which had sprung up of late, to which he was decidedly opposed—that of limiting the privilege of debate to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen occupying the front benches. He claimed the same privilege for men of perhaps less importance and less ability who sat in other parts of the House; and he trusted that independent Members would not sanction the principle under which they were told that so-and-so was to speak and so-and-So was to answer him. For himself he would not submit to the practice.


said, that much time was lost in the early part of the evening by Members of the Government not being in their places to answer Questions of which they had received notice.


said, that after the appeal which had been made by many hon. Friends, he should be sorry to run the risk of an adverse division; and therefore he begged leave to withdraw his Motion.


said, he begged leave to remind hon. Members that the Government of the day, of whatever party it might be composed, had no other interest than to forward the transaction of public business. With regard to the proposal of the hon. Member he would only suggest that whatever arrangements were adopted, it should be considered merely as an experiment, and be confined to the Session in which it was proposed. He was himself opposed to the Motion of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie), as he thought it was inexpedient to interfere with the right which private Members possessed, on the Motion for Adjournment until Monday, to express their opinions upon subjects of passing and immediate interest; but he did not think that the present proposal had such a tendency.

Motion made, and Question, That Government Orders of the Day shall take precedence of Notices of Motions upon Thursdays instead of Fridays, put, and negatived.