HC Deb 14 May 1860 vol 158 cc1208-13

Sir, I rise redemption of the pledge which I gave on Friday evening, to call the attention of the House to an irregularity of proceeding which took place on Thursday. The House on that evening went into Committee of Ways and Means, and passed Resolutions affirming duties which were to form the foundation of two clauses in the Wine Licences Bill. According to the rules of the House, no clause of that kind can be put into a Bill, except it be founded upon a previous Resolution passed in Committee of Ways and Means, and afterwards reported to the House. That is the form of proceeding. Upon that occasion, there being no difference of opinion upon that preliminary step, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer appealed to the House to dispense with the usual form, and allow the Resolution to be reported at once. It was an obvious convenience; the House agreed to it—at least there was no dissent—and it was done. But upon further consideration, and the matter being pointed out by my right hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Bouverie), it struck everybody that that proceeding, however convenient for the moment, was a departure from an established usage of this House. That usage is, that Resolutions in Committee of Supply, involving grants of money, should be reported, not on the day on which the Resolutions passed in Committee, but on some subsequent day; and upon inquiry I believe it appears that, from the Revolution downwards, there is only one instance in which that rule has been departed from—namely, in the year 1797, when a measure of great urgency was passed during the mutiny at the Nore, and when the ordinary forms of both Houses of Parliament were departed from for the purpose of expediting a measure which, upon that occasion, and under those circumstances, was called for by the public interests. Now, these forms of Parliamentary usage are, no doubt, very often productive simply of delay, and are an incumbrance on our proceedings; but they are all founded upon reason and good sense. The tendency of all of them is to guard the public interests and the character of the House of Commons from those precipitate decisions, which an accidental majority might be led to by passion, fear, or haste, or any of those other impulses by which men are governed. We all know that in assemblies in other countries where those forms do not prevail decisions of great importance, involving permanent consequences, and having a most important bearing upon national interests, have been passed suddenly, and without allowing any time for consideration. The object of all our forms is to secure a reconsideration of a given matter at a subsequent period, and when a different attendance may be in the House—and so to guard the House against precipitate decisions of an accidental and momentary majority. I am sure the House will feel that it is of the utmost importance to the public interests, the national welfare, and the character of the House, that we should maintain and respect these forms. Therefore it was felt by the House that it was necessary in some manner to correct the inadvertency or irregularity that took place on Thursday evening. There are two ways in which that may be done. One method suggested was, that we might pass a Resolution that that which was done then should not establish a precedent, and that we might convert the rule, the lex consuetudinis, into a standing order. But, Sir, it was thought that merely to pass a Resolution that this should not be deemed a precedent, would not be altogether sufficient for the purpose, and that we should rather weaken than strengthen the authority of Parliamentary usage, by converting that which is, I may say, a part of the unwritten law of Parliament into a statute, as it were, by making it a Standing Order, Standing Orders being frequently dispensed with. There can be no doubt, that this House has the power to do what it did on Thursday. There can be no doubt, that what was done on Thursday was a perfectly valid act, and, if nothing was done, it would remain as it is, and no one could impeach the validity of the proceeding. At the same time, for the reasons I have stated, I think the House will be of opinion that it is better not to let the matter rest in that way. I therefore propose that we should resolve that that which was done then should be deemed null and void, and that we should order that the Resolutions passed in the Committee of Ways and Means on Thursday shall be reported to-morrow.


Or to-night.


Or, tonight, if it should be thought more convenient—all that the rule requires being that the Resolutions shall be reported on a day subsequent to that on which they were passed in the Committee of Ways and Means. I shall therefore move—that Notice should be entered in our Journals that upon Thursday last the Committee of Ways and Means had agreed to a Resolution, which, contrary to the Rules and Practice of this House, was, without urgent occasion, ordered to be reported forthwith, and was thereupon reported and agreed to by the House. I propose to put in the words, "without urgent occasion," because if any occasion should occur when the public interests require that we should depart from our ordinary rules and practice, the House may think fit to do again what was done in 1797. We have, therefore, thought it important to specify that what was done on Thursday was done without any urgent occasion. I now therefore propose to order—"That the said proceedings shall be null and void;" and thereupon, "That the Resolution passed in Committee of Ways and Means be reported," either this day or To-morrow. [Cries of "To morrow!"] Then, I propose that it shall be reported tomorrow.


said, he thought that a double irregularity had been committed on Thursday last. The first was in the Motion by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Resolution be reported forthwith. The House then went into Committee on the Wine Licences Bill, and added two clauses which were founded upon the irregular proceeding in regard to the Resolution; and these clauses were agreed to by the Committee; that was irregularity No. 2. It was most important in a constitutional point of view that hon. Members should have time to reflect on the nature of a tax, and that the country should have an interval for knowing what was going on in regard to taxation. There was no proper foundation for the insertion of those two clauses, and he wished to know whether the Government intended to have the Bill recommitted.


As I understand it, the lion. Baronet is quite correct in saying that a double irregularity has been committed, the second irregularity being in consequence of the former one. The proceeding in Committee was perfectly regular if the former proceeding had been valid; but the former proceeding having been cancelled, it follows that the subsequent proceeding in Committee in inserting the clauses was not founded on any Resolution of the House directing that they should do so. The matter will be regarded, therefore, as if it had not occurred, and these clauses will he brought up afresh in Committee, and will be then inserted. As I was the person who made the Motion that this Resolution be reported forthwith. I will state the part I had in the matter. I came down to the House and moved that the House should go into Committee of Ways and Means without having the slightest idea that any Resolution of that Committee could, without a violation of the rules and practice of the House, be reported on the same day. I had never heard of such a proceeding, and always thought it was forbidden by the rules and practice of the House. When the Resolution was in the hands of the Chairman of Ways and Means, he, as is usual, said, "When will you have it reported? Will you have it reported forthwith?" I said, "Can it be reported forthwith?" and he replied in the affirmative. I thought there had probably been some alteration in the rules and practice of the House, and assented to the Report as being more convenient to the House than waiting for any further proceeding on a future day. That was all that took place, excepting that, having received that assurance from the Chairman of Committees, I stated the point to the House, and stated that the matter was not one of emergency but of convenience. I am now in the hands of the House.


No doubt an irregularity has been committed which had better be taken notice of, and the only reason why I venture to rise is to express a doubt whether the noble Lord at the head of the Government has put his Motion in the best form for correcting the irregularity. No doubt the House has the power of reporting the Resolutions passed in Committee of Ways and Means forthwith. We exercised that power in 1797. I think that in taking notice of the irregularity we ought not to do it in such a manner as to imply a want of power on the part of the House to take that course in a case of emergency. I would suggest that the form of the Motion agreed to now should be "that the Report made on Thursday evening, and all the proceedings taken in consequence, shall be deemed null and void." I draw a broad distinction between saying these proceedings "are null and void," and that they are "deemed to be null and void." One implies that the House has not the power of proceeding as it did, and the other declares that the power is reserved.


We think the object has been attained by the insertion of the words "without urgent oc- casion," implying that if there had been any urgent occasion the proceeding might have been taken by the House.

Notice taken, that upon Thursday last the Committee of Ways and Means had agreed to a Resolution which, contrary to the Rules and practice of this House, was, without urgent occasion, ordered to be reported forthwith, and was thereupon reported and agreed to by the House.

Ordered, That the said proceedings be null and void.

Ordered, That the Resolution of the Committee of Ways and Means be reported To-morrow.