Standing Order of the House of the 25th day of June, 1832,
That the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means shall be fixed for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and may also be appointed for any other day on which Orders of the Day shall have precedence of Notices of Motions," read.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I rise, Sir, in pursuance of the notice which I have given, to move certain Resolutions arising out of the Report of the Select Committee appointed to consider the question of facilitating public business in this House. I ought, perhaps, in the first instance, to apologize for appearing to take out of the hands of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham), the Chairman of the Committee, a duty which, under ordinary circumstances, would more 1491 properly devolve upon him. But I have only to say that the arrangement by which it falls to my lot to propose these Resolutions is one come to between my right hon. Friend and myself, that in the course I am now taking I have his full concurrence, and that I am also acting, I believe, entirely in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee. In considering the question which was referred to the Committee, it must naturally strike everybody, who has at all turned his mind to the course of business in this House, that the great variety of Standing Orders and established usages which govern our proceedings are almost all founded upon some good and substantial ground. From time to time the condition of things varies, and those regulations which, under certain circumstances, may have been, not only contributory to good order, but also in no way obstructive to the easy despatch of public affairs, may, under a different set of circumstances, be no longer required for the protection of order, and may likewise be useless impediments to the progress of business. Relaxations and changes in our rules have, therefore, been occasionally made; none of them, however, without the most careful deliberation, and so judiciously, indeed, have those changes been adapted to the exigencies to which they were applied, that I believe, although they have been numerous, they have greatly tended to the furtherance of public affairs, and I am not aware that any one of them has upon experience worked ill or had to be retracted. That, I think, is a reason why we should not proceed too hastily to alter regulations of long standing and based on ancient usage. On the other hand, it is an encouragement for us carefully to weigh any changes that may be proposed, and if they are found such as may be made without any violent disturbance of existing arrangements, and with the hope of expediting the business of the House, then to adopt them. A great number of proposals were more or less submitted to the Committee, which acted on the principle I have just stated. They were unwilling to recommend anything which should effect a violent change in our established code of rules, or which should tend to narrow that ample scope for discussion and debate which is so essentially necessary for the proper discharge of the functions of the House of Commons. The Committee thought that many of the proposals laid before them would, no doubt, 1492 in their simple effect accelerate the despatch of business, while others, again, would have that result which is admitted to be a desideratum —namely, the attainment of certainty as to what business would come on on a given day or at a given hour. But many of these proposals were supposed on further consideration likely to trench inconveniently and injuriously on that latitude of discussion which it is so important to preserve unimpaired. The functions of the House of Commons are various. We meet here to pass laws, a (duty which requires for its due discharge great at time, great deliberation, and certainty as to when business will be brought on in prder that Members may be prepared to depate a given subject. That is a point which should not be overlooked. Another function of this House, not less important, is that or examining the Estimates, voting the Supplies for the year, and regulating the finances of the country. If these were the only duties of Parliament, many arrangements might be proposed and adopted which would tend to accelerate their performance. But this House has another function to discharge, and one highly conducive to the public interests—namely, that of being the mouthpiece of the nation; the organ by which all opinions, all complaints, all notions of grievances, all hopes and expectations, all wishes and suggestions which may arise among the people at large, may be brought to an expression here, may be discussed, examined, answered, rejected, or redressed. That I hold to be as important a function as either of the other two. There are many arrangements which might greatly facilitate the discharge of the first two duties, but which would interfere essentially with the full and complete performance of the third. Therefore, in making proposals for expediting public business, we have felt it incumbent on us to abstain carefully from anything which would tend, I may say, to gag the House of Commons, to prevent it from being the free and unfettered organ for the expression of all the feelings and opinions which on any subject, great or small, any part of the nation might wish to have laid before it. This last consideration, therefore, very much restricts the range of alteration which might otherwise have been suggested in our rules; and I think the House will see, on perusing the recommendations of the Committee—who, I must say in passing, have shown admirable ability and fairness in the drawing up of 1493 their Report—the House will see, on reading the Committee's recommendations, on which the Resolutions I have to move are based, that while, on the one hand, the Committee have proposed those alterations in our mode of proceeding which will tend materially to facilitate the fair and proper transaction of business, they have, on the other, studiously eschewed anything that would inconveniently restrain the freedom of discussion or deprive hon. Members of the opportunity they ought to possess for making the sentiments of any of their constituents known. Well, the first proposal that I have to make relates to the time for holding Committees of Supply. At present the House resolves itself into Committee of Supply on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or on Thursday in substitution for Friday. Now, the Select Committee thought there might be an opening on other days which are properly notice days for a Committee of Supply if the notice business should not occupy the whole of the evening, and that there might be many occasions on which, the notices being concluded and the House free, the time thus obtained might be used for going into Committee of Supply on Tuesday, and also on Friday, should Friday remain a notice day. There would be this advantage in that arrangement, that in the first place an additional day, or fraction of a day, might be gained under many circumstances for Committees of Supply, or of Ways and Means, and that, too, without any encroachment on the time allotted to hon. Members for bringing on their Motions in accordance with these notices. It will, in fact, be an advantage to them, for we know that Tuesdays being devoted to notices of Motions, the Government and their supporters have sometimes no great inducement to remain in the House, and there are other attractions which call hon. Members away at certain periods of the evening, so that an hon. Member who had a Motion to make which is interesting to himself, and perhaps to other persons, is rendered liable to the arithmetical test, and before he has finished his speech or the question has been fully discussed the matter is brought to a close by its being discovered that there are not present the magical number of Members without whom the Speaker cannot remain in the chair. It will be a security for private Members when Committee of Supply is fixed that those who are interested in carrying on the business of the Government will be in 1494 their places, and there will be less chance of private Members being defeated by the scantiness and thinness of the House. We do not propose to take from private Members anything which they now have, but simply to give the Government a reversion to any unexpended portion of time which may remain after the notices of Motions have been disposed of. We propose to add to the number of days upon which orders shall take precedence of notices, and upon which Government orders shall have a priority. We propose that Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays shall be order days. At present Friday is not an order day, and it has been frequently suggested that Friday should be added as such. In fact, at a certain period of the Session Friday is made an order day, but not until the Session has gone through a part of its course. Now, the period when an additional order day would be most useful is at the commencement of the Session, when the Estimates and Supplies and other urgent measures are brought in, and which it is desirable to get through as speedily as possible, in order that in the latter part of the Session we may not be inconveniently encumbered by an accumulation of Bills and measures which must be disposed of, and which we have not time properly to consider. In proposing that these four days shall be order days we do not wish to trench upon Wednesdays, as a day upon which the Bills introduced by private Members can be considered, but we propose that on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays orders shall have precedence of notices, and that Government orders should have priority over other orders. Much has been said about the practice which has prevailed, and of late has rapidly extended, of raising desultory discussions on Friday upon the Motion of adjournment. Many persons have wished that the adjournment until Monday should take place as a matter of course, in order to prevent these desultory and miscellaneous discussions, but I have not shared in that desire. I have always thought that, although we were sometimes kept until a comparatively late hour discussing the greatest variety of subjects mingled helter-skelter together, yet, nevertheless, that opportunity afforded hon. Members of raising questions and obtaining answers upon matters of interest to them and persons out of doors is one which it is desirable to retain for Members of this House. But there is no denying 1495 that the Motion upon which all these discussions arise does not justify them according to the orders of the House, and if the right hon. Gentleman in the chair was strictly to enforce those orders when the adjournment till Monday is moved no hon. Member could speak to anything but for or against the adjournment. The practice of the House, however, has been so different, and that practice has been so long sanctioned by acquiescence, that it would he vain to attempt to bring the House back strictly to the original order. But it occurred to the Committee that a middle course might be taken, and without depriving hon. Members on Fridays of the opportunity of raising these desultory discussions, yet might cause those discussions to be conducted upon principles in accordance with the Constitution, and also with the strict rules and orders of that House. The Committee recommended that there should be no Motion for the adjournment to Monday, but that the adjournment shall take place as a matter of course, by standing order, unless otherwise ordered, not precluding any Member, if so minded, from moving that the House do not adjourn until Monday. The Committee, however, thought that that alone would not afford private Members all the opportunities they now enjoy of raising discussions upon various questions to which they may think it right to call the attention of the House, and that those opportunities might be provided for in a manner more in accordance with the constitution and the orders of the House. They propose that a Committee of Supply or of Ways and Means should stand as the first order on every Friday, and upon the Motion "that the Speaker do leave the chair," when every hon. Member will have the same opportunity of doing what he now does upon the question of adjournment. That arrangement, without trenching upon the opportunities which Members have for free and ample discussion, would bring these discussions more within the regular proceeding of the House, and more in nnison with the fundamental principles of the Constitution, that when Supply is proposed it shall be open to every Member to discuss any subject. The suggestion was thrown out that there should be a limitation to those discussions upon going into Committee of Supply, but the Committee did not think it was expedient, and they propose to leave unrestricted in its amplest extent the opportunities which Members 1496 now enjoy. Then it is proposed to make a change in the mode of dealing with public Bills referred to a Select Committee. When a private Bill is referred to a Select Committee and comes down here, it does not go to a Committee of the Whole House, but the Report of the Select Committee is accepted. In a great number of cases where public Bills have been referred to a Select Committee this House might well adopt the recommendation and result of the labours of the Select Committee, and it will not be necessary for those Bills to be considered by a Committee of the Whole House. It is quite clear that considerable time would in many cases be saved by that alteration, and, therefore, the Committee recommend that all public Bills which have been referred to a Select Committee when they come down to this House shall not, as a matter of course, be referred to a Committee of the Whole House, unless it be moved that the Bill or any particular part of it shall be so referred. That is, if a Bill should come back here containing some new clauses upon which a difference of opinion still remains, if it is thought necessary that those particular clauses shall be considered in Committee of the Whole House, it shall not be necessary for the Committee of the Whole House to go through all the other clauses of the Bill to which no objection is made, but it shall be competent for any hon. Member to move that those portions of the Bill upon which a difference of opinion prevails shall be referred to a Committee of the Whole House. There are cases now under consideration to which that recommendation could be usefully applied. There are the Bills for the consolidation of the law. They consist, in great measure, of consolidation and re-enactment of existing laws. When a Bill of this sort has been referred to a Committee upstairs, it is obvious that it would be a waste of time for the House to go through all the clauses, numerous as they may be, simply re-enacting the law as it stands. And all the purposes of discussion will have been sufficiently accomplished before the Committee as to all the clauses containing alterations, more or less important, of the law. These are the recommendations which it is my duty, on behalf of the Committee, to propose. At first sight those who thought that still larger alterations might have been made may be disappointed by the scantiness of the recommendations. But if hon. Gentlemen will 1497 only consider how important it is to go only step by step, and to try the ground by one foot, before taking any fresh step in advance, they will see that these recommendations will save to the House a great deal of valuable time; they will not consider that they go too far; and will think that what they do recommend are changes that may be of advantage in the transaction of business, without in any degree trenching on the perfect freedom of the House in the performance of its important functions.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Standing Order be repealed."
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, it appeared to him that the Committee and the noble Lord had treated the House with somewhat scanty courtesy in allowing them so short a time for the consideration of these proposals. He did not for a moment suppose it was the intention of the Committee or of the noble Lord to be wanting in courtesy, but he thought the Resolutions would be viewed very differently by the occupants of the Treasury bench and the front Opposition bench, and by Members who occupied an independent position. The noble Lord had chiefly dwelt on the convenience the proposed change would be to the Government. He had been much struck with the ingenuity of the concluding part of the noble Lord's speech. He had apologized to the House for the smallness of the change proposed, while, as far as he could ascertain, Members of the House were horror-struck by its magnitude. Instead of falling short of the expectations of the House, the Committee had gone far beyond them. Simple as the recommendations appeared, it was extremely difficult to foresee their effect. Now, there was this difference between the House and the Committee, that the House had not had any opportunity of considering the question. The noble Lord did not wish the House to proceed hastily in the matter, and that was just what he (Mr. Bentinck) wished them not to do. The noble Lord said he did not wish to narrow the field of discussion; but, virtually, the proposal would almost shut up that field altogether. The noble Lord said the House would be enabled to judge with more certainty what business would come on; he should like to hear from some member of the Committee how this greater certainty would be arrived at. If Supply stood on the Orders every night, the Government 1498 would be able to pass important Estimates when the House was comparatively empty, as had recently happened with respect to some Navy Estimates. Hon. Members would go to dinner—it was a habit, and nothing would break them of it. But if they would leave the House at an early hour, and not return till nine or ten o'clock, it would be in the power of the Government, if it could take Votes of Supply every night, to pass the Estimates at any time in almost empty Houses. That was a point on which the House ought to be extremely jealous. The noble Lord said the adoption of these Resolutions would enable them to calculate more closely when particular business would come on, while he (Mr. Bentinck) thought the uncertainty would be greater than ever. If the House allowed Supply to stand for every night, it would be in the power of the Government to do that which occurred on a very recent occasion with respect to the Navy Estimates—to sweep through the Estimates at a time from about seven to half-past nine, when a great number of Members were absent from the House. He would ask hon. Members who like himself did not owe political allegiance to any man, except to those who sent them to that House, whether they did not remember occasions innumerable when they had been prevented from addressing the House on important questions of policy through arrangements which had been come to between the two front benches as to when a debate was to terminate? That question had been raised on more than one occasion, and he had taken exception to that arrangement as most irregular and unconstitutional. The noble Lord's Resolutions were little more than an attempt to carry that system still further. It was difficult for a private Member to bring a question forward at present under these recommendations it would be almost impossible. They would thus place him in a very inconvenient position with his constituents, for they might wish him to bring a particular question before the House, and he might be willing to do so, and yet have no opportunity. Then the noble Lord proposed to take another day for Government during the week, that day being taken from private Members. On the third Resolution he was not inclined to agree with the noble Lord. The fourth Resolution was similar to the second, upon which he had already remarked. As to the fifth, the noble Lord said it would facilitate 1499 public business, but he (Mr. Bentinck) thought it a merit of the forms of the House that they prevented legislation from being hurried through it. Good legislation would find its way through; if objectionable it would be dangerous to facilitate it. It was said that facilities would be afforded by the Resolutions for the despatch of public business. But the delay which now occurred was owing to the neglect of Governments themselves, who did not introduce their measures sufficiently early, so that, generally speaking, a whole month was wasted every Session. In submitting his Amendment to the House he wished them to understand that he was by no means opposed to all changes that might be suggested with the view to improve the present arrangements regarding the conduct of public business. He was only desirous of expressing his decided objection to the Resolutions now proposed. He had two great reasons for resisting the Motion of the noble Lord. In the first place, he thought the proposal dangerous as regarded the rights and privileges of private Members, and in the second place, he thought that more time ought to be given to the House for the consideration of this question. It was his intention to take the sense of the House upon his Amendment in the spirit in which he made it. He did not, however, mean to bind any hon. Gentleman any more than himself to any declaration in respect to any change that might hereafter be deemed advisable to be submitted to them. He simply asked them not to sanction a proposal which he believed to be destructive of their rights, and to seriously affect the independence of the House of Commons.
Amendment proposed,To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House, having considered the Proceedings and the Report of the Select Committee on Business of the House, does not deem it expedient to sanction the proposed alterations in the Standing Orders, and in the practice of the House,'" instead thereof.
§ MR. KNIGHTLEY
, in seconding the Amendment, said, when he saw that out of twenty-one members of the Committee fourteen or fifteen were Ministers or ex-Ministers, he felt sure that the rights of independent Members would not be taken much care of. The simple question was—should the whole legislation of the country be practically concentrated on the Ministerial bench? At present private Mem- 1500 bers had great difficulties with which to contend Take, for instance, the Church Rate Abolition Bill, The hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir John Trelawny) could not be accused of want of activity, and his Bill was brought in on the first day of the Session. Early in March it was read a second time; and then all the Wednesdays were so completely taken up that the hon. Baronet found it impossible to fix the third reading before some time in June. With such a case in point, was it desirable to place additional impediments in the way of private Members? True, it was not proposed to interfere with the order days, but hon. Gentlemen would be stopped at the very threshold—they would not be able even to introduce measures. The real impediment to public business was the interminably long speeches made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in the immediate neighbourhood of the table. No doubt these speeches might be extremely eloquent and very able, but still, in his humble opinion, they might be condensed with advantage. Hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House were rarely in the habit of interrupting Ministers of the Crown by any of those euphonious noises which conveyed the belief of the House that the speaker was slightly tedious, and hon. Gentlemen opposite generally extended the same consideration to the leaders of Opposition. "When, however, right hon. Gentlemen on either side of the table found that they were not interrupted they seemed to imagine that the House was listening to them with rapt and breathless attention. Speaking for himself, he could only say that this was very far, indeed, from being the case. In his opinion these Resolutions would trench very much on the rights of independent Members, and he should, therefore, second the Amendment.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
was understood to say that he merely wished to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether he intended by the Resolutions to continue the practice which now existed of allowing Motions on going into Committee of Supply to be brought forward on Mondays and Thursdays as well as on Fridays, which was the present practice? At present great inconvenience was occasioned by that practice.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
The proposals which I have made do not interfere with or restrict in the slightest degree the privilege now possessed of making 1501 any Motion, or calling the attention of the House to any subject on any day for which Committee of Supply is fixed.
§ MR. PAULL
was understood to express his strong objections to the recommendations of the Committee, and his determination to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Norfolk. The proposition of the Government was, in effect, to restrict the Motions of private Members to one day in the week. Sent there, as they were, to represent the wants and wishes of their constituencies, he deprecated any attempt to interfere with their constitutional rights. He had never heard any objections made, on the part of independent Members, to giving every facility to the Government for bringing on their measures on any day they applied for, and, therefore, thought it was exceedingly unreasonable for the noble Viscount to ask them to adopt the Resolution. He ventured to think that the proposition, if adopted, would have the effect of occasioning surprises and great uncertainty as to when the business in Committee of Supply would be brought forward. Certain arrangements had been proposed by the late Speaker which he thought might be judiciously adopted. He hoped that his hon. Friend would divide the House on his Amendment.
Sir, I for one should have been disposed to place the greatest reliance in the Committee composed as it was, but the last recommendation, illustrated as it was by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, has completely concluded my mind against these Resolutions. With regard to the former Resolutions, we are, in point of fact, only asked to give up to the Government one day for the whole Session, which we were in the habit of giving them for half the Session. But when we come to the last, that a Bill which has gone through a Select Committee should not necessarily be discussed in Committee of the Whole House, I felt at the time great difficulty with regard to it, but the illustration of the noble Lord convinced me of the great danger of the proposition. He told us that a Bill for consolidating the criminal law had recently been sent to the Select Committee, and that it would be idle for us in Committee of the "Whole House to consider those parts which are merely re-enactments, and that we must confine ourselves to those parts which are Amendments and alterations. But, surely, some Members may think that parts of Bills which 1502 are merely re-enactments, and which have been passed by the Select Committee in that form, may contain such grave and important principles that they ought very properly to be considered in Committee of the Whole House. Yet, according to the noble Lord, under this Resolution they will be completely shut out. It is true that they will have the opportunity of making a Motion, but what chance will any Member have of carrying a Motion of that sort against the Government which has brought in the Bill, and the head of which has declared that the Bill ought not to be considered in Committee of the Whole House? For instance, in many cases the punishment of death is re-enacted, but do you suppose that there are not hon. Members in this House who may not wish to raise a discussion whether it ought to be re-enacted at all or in particular points? It might be very convenient for a Government, by the power of its majority, to prevent that question being discussed. Within the last few years a stop had been put to all dealing with clauses upon the third reading. I did not object to that; I think it has worked well; but I do object altogether to putting public Bills on the footing of private Bills, because, in practice, it will come entirely to that. You send a Bill to a Select Committee, but it is a chapter of accidents how that Committee is constituted, and a still greater chapter of accidents how many Members attend it. The public are not there; nothing is known of what is done; it may be put down for the Report next day; and, if it is a Bill of 100 or 150 clauses, who is to read it in that short time? It may have been wholly changed in Select Committee, and many details run so much into principles that you can hardly tell at first sight how much the alterations of details may affect great principles. Upon this ground alone I have the strongest possible objection to the Resolution, and I should have been glad to take the opinion of the House upon it by itself, but as my hon. Friend below has made his Motion I shall vote with him. In regard to the other part of the Resolutions, I do not believe that it will effect the object which the Committee intend. You may cry out, "Stop discussion," but if you stop up one hole it will gnaw through another. What is the real history of these discussions on Fridays? They spring from this reason—the Government took away a day from private Members. Those Members 1503 found their chances lessened, and they immediately availed themselves of this other opportunity to have desultory conversations. I believe the effect of the alteration will be what has been stated by my hon. Friend behind me—there will be so many discussions on going into Committee of Supply, that nobody will know when we shall get into it. The Government cannot complain of any hon. Member on any night raising any question. The noble Lord says he does not want to gag the House. Though he may not want to, he is taking a very good chance of doing it. I do not think that after we have adopted the Resolutions the discussions will be any more definite than at present. On the contrary, I believe they will be more desultory, and, therefore, will not facilitate public business.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
It would not perhaps be respectful on my part, having had the honour to preside over the Committee, to remain altogether silent in this discussion. But I must beg to relieve the apprehensions of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Knightley), as, however I may have transgressed heretofore, I am now no longer able to address the House at an unreasonable length. This discussion has assumed the shape of seeking to give a general negative to the whole Resolutions by a preliminary Motion, and I think it necessary shortly to address the House in reference to some of the observations which have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) says that the Government and the members of the Committee generally have been wanting in courtesy to the independent Members. At the request of my noble Friend at the head of the Government I took the chair of this Committee unwillingly, but upon the ground that I was fitted for it because I had ceased to desire any official position, and had resumed the station whence long ago I first departed—the station of a private Member of this House. I am now rude donatus —no longer a combatant for office on the floor of the House—and all my sympathies, therefore, are with the independent Members, and I am the very last person who would be wanting in courtesy or consideration to them. The course which I took in the Committee was quite in accordance with the views stated by the noble Lord at the head of the Government—namely, that no course should be taken which would interfere with the fair op- 1504 portunity of independent Members for making Motions or expressing their opinions upon public questions. The hon. Member for Norfolk went on to say that the House was taken by surprise when it consented to the appointment of this Committee. The matter referred to us was that we were to consider whether any measures could be taken to expedite the transaction of public business; and, so far from the House being taken by surprise, if I mistake not, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department did on that occasion give a distinct outline of the propositions which he thought should be brought before the Committee, with a view of so expediting public business. In the main the recommendations which this Committee have adopted, though modified to a considerable extent, are the propositions which were stated by my right hon. Friend as the subject matter for us to consider.
§ MR. BENTINCK
My right hon. Friend has misunderstood me. I said the House was taken by surprise in being called upon so soon to decide on the course which they would adopt upon the Report of the Committee.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
I thought my hon. Friend said the propositions were larger than those the Committee were to inquire into, and to that extent the House was taken by surprise. If I am accurate in what I have stated they are not larger, because in the main they are the identical propositions which were made when the Committee was appointed. As to surprise now, I think this Report has been in the hands of the House for some time—more than a week. It is not very voluminous, and the evidence is very short. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire says the language is verbose. I alone am responsible for the language employed, subject to the corrections of the Committee, and, although it is said to be verbose, I hope that the propositions are stated so elearly and so intelligibly that there can be no mistake. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk says—and the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Paull) makes the same observation—that greater certainty with respect to the time of going into Committee of Supply was the primary object. I admit that most distinctly. The Committee so regarded it, and in the first instance directed their inquiry with the hope of obtaining more certainty with respect to the time of going into Com- 1505 mittee of Supply, but what deterred us from giving greater effect to that object was that we found it could only be obtained by proposing greater changes than we thought desirable. And with those greater changes we must have introduced the novel principle that, with respect to debates on going into Committee of Supply, there must be a limit of time at the expiration of which the question is to be put from the chair, or we must have recommended to extended "progress" with regard to Supply as with regard to Committees on public Bills. The hon. Member for Norfolk says that if this Report be adopted no opportunity for making Motions will be given except on Tuesdays. My hon. Friend has misconceived the effect of the Resolution. As it now stands, when the question on Friday is that the House at its rising adjourn till Monday, no Motion can be made. There may be desultory discussions. The attention of the House may be called to different subjects, but no Motion can be made. If this recommendation of the Committee be adopted, and it be the invariable rule to move on Fridays that the Speaker leave the chair to go into Committee of Supply or Committee of Ways and Means, whereas now no Amendment on Friday can be put, on the substituted Motion an Amendment may be moved, and the sense of the House taken upon it, in addition to retaining every facility for calling attention to any special subject. These discussions, which are now irregular on the Motion for Adjournment, will then be conducted in a perfectly regular manner, and consistent with the rules and existing practice of the House of Commons. The next observation of my hon. Friend is that there is a great waste of time at the commencement of the Session. I entirely agree with my noble Friend at the head of the Government, that the great object at the commencement of the Session is that the business to be brought forward should be laid on the table at an early period; but at the natural apprehension of the Government is that in bringing forward Bills before Easter and putting down a number of Orders of the Day they may be driven into a strait, and not have sufficient time to take the Votes in the Army and Navy Estimates, which are necessarily preliminary to passing the Mutiny Bills. The Government very naturally press on Supply before Easter, and exclude the consideration of other 1506 business. I, therefore, entirely differ from the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. M. Milnes) who has given Notice of a Motion that whatever enlargement of order days be granted should be order days after Easter, and I contend that the enlargement should be before much rather than after Easter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire has taken an objection to the fifth Resolution. If I could hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk will not press his Motion to a division, or, if he does press it, that the House will decide to enter upon a consideration of these Resolutions, then I think it would save time to discuss them seriatim. I think it is also more convenient to discuss these Resolutions seriatim, because, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire takes objection to the fifth Resolution, he may not have made up his mind to reject the whole, and not to give an opportunity of discussing the other four. If the House should not absolutely refuse to consider the Report from a Committee passed with singular unanimity I hope they will give a fair consideration to the recommendations of that Committee seriatim, but if they should decide that the consideration even of the Resolutions be not entertained it is a waste of time to discuss them.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
said, he could assure the House that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had expressed the views of himself and the rest of the Committee. He never acted on a Committee in which there was more unanimity of opinion. The Committee took into consideration all the points which had been touched upon, and many others besides. There were times when he doubted whether they would be able to arrive at a unanimous concurrence of opinion; but he was bound to say that the Resolutions might be taken by the House to express truly and fairly the general sense of the Committee to whom the House was pleased to refer this matter. As he trusted that the House would deal with the matter in the businesslike matter suggested by the right hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham), he would now trouble the House by referring to the particular points which had been urged against the Resolutions; but there was, he believed, a general impression on which he might take the liberty of saying a few words. That impression was that the Resolutions tended to deprive the indepen- 1507 dent Members of the House of certain facilities which they at present possessed. He, on the other hand, held that, if the House adopted the Resolutions, independent Members would be in a better condition than at present. Objection had been taken to the proposal to give the Government power to set down Supply on Tuesdays, but the effect of that would be that the Government would have an interest in keeping a House on those days, and he need hardly say that the greatest misfortune in a Parliamentary sense to which private Members were now exposed was that on the only day open to them for bringing forward Motions they ran the risk of finding their audience disappear from before their eyes. Under those circumstances, and seeing that Supply was to be placed at the end of the business on Tuesdays, he thought the proposal now made would tend to the advantage of private Members. Another objection was that the substitution of debates on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply on Fridays for the desultory discussions which now took place on the Motion for the adjournment of the House would, in some way or other, encroach upon the privileges of private Members. The Resolutions would have no such effect, and after they were adopted it would be just as competent for private Members to make remarks, ask for explanations, and call the attention of the House to subjects on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply as it now was on the Motion for the adjournment of the House until Monday. As far as he was able to form a judgment the adoption of the Resolutions would lead to good order and facilitate the business of the Session, and at the same time it would in no way diminish the existing privileges of private Members.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided; Ayes, 253; Noes 98: Majority, 155.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ Ordered, That the said Standing Order be repealed.
§ On the First Resolution.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, that the question before the House was, whether a certain Standing Order should be repealed; and he desired to submit to the House whether it was wise or prudent to take Committees of Supply and Ways and Means upon those days on which Notices of Motions have precedence of Or- 1508 ders of the Day. Tuesday, to which he wished to confine his remarks, was a day reserved for Members' notices, and as he understood the object of the first Resolution, it was to take Committees of Supply and Ways and Means on Tuesday after the notices, with the view to prevent uncertainty as to when Supply and Ways and Means would be taken. But he believed that for that purpose the alteration proposed would fail entirely, because there were generally ten or twelve Motions on the Tuesday's paper, and if the Committees of Ways and Means appeared upon the Orders, there could be no certainty of their being taken. It was only the other week that a debate on the New Zealand question, which had arisen on the Motion to go into Committee of Supply, was adjourned to Friday. On that evening the usual desultory debate on the adjournment was concluded earlier than usual, several important Motions went off, and the New Zealand debate was resumed. An attempt, however, was made to count out the House, and he went away, thinking it impossible that they would go into Supply that night. They did so, however, and in the absence of most of those Gentlemen who took an interest in the matter the Estimates were disposed of in three-quarters of an hour. That was very annoying, and it was desirable that Members should be enabled to ascertain with greater certainty when the House was going into Supply; but that object would not be effected by the proposed change. He hoped that the noble Viscount would at least leave the Tuesday Motion day alone.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
observed that the Resolutions before the House were very unequal in importance. The really material propositions were the second, third, and fourth. There were two others which had been proposed by the Committee because they thought these changes would, upon the whole, be beneficial, but which they did not consider would have any great practical effect, and these were the first and the fifth. With regard to the first, it appeared to him that the hon. Baronet altogether misunderstood the object with which it was proposed. At present the rule of the House was that the Committee of Supply should be fixed for Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but it might not be fixed for Tuesday. Now, the object of the Resolution was to remove that single exception; and if that single exception were not re- 1509 moved the Resolution might as well be withdrawn, for the modification suggested would entirely destroy its effect. The rule with regard to Committee of Supply was this: that unless notice was given that particular business would be taken on the night for which it was fixed, it stood as a mere formal order on the paper, and no Votes were taken. There would be a few cases in the course of the Session when, for the sake of expediting business, it might be convenient to fix the Committee of Supply for Tuesday, and in such cases due notice would be given, that Members might not be taken by surprise. To enable the Government to do this was the whole scope of the Resolution, and he thought the House might agree to it without any alarm as to the consequences that might ensue from it. Nor would this change act as a limitation of the time at the disposal of independent Members, because, as Motions would still take precedence of Orders of the Day, Supply could not come on until all the Motions of which Notices had been given had been disposed of. It did not, however, appear that hon. Members prized very highly the night which was set apart for their Motions, for what had taken place on the three last Tuesday evenings? Last Tuesday evening there was no House, on the previous Tuesday the House was counted out at a quarter before eight, and on the Tuesday evening before that at a quarter past eight o'clock. A large portion of both Tuesday and Friday evenings was lost on account of the disinclination of Members to listen to the Motions which were brought forward upon those occasions. He trusted, therefore, that the first, which was in the nature of a mere formal Resolution, would not be debated at any length, but that the House would be inclined to proceed to the more important propositions comprised in the second, third, and fourth Resolutions.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, hon. Gentlemen who sometimes called themselves "independent Members," but whose proper designation was "unofficial Members," frequently appealed in vain to Ministers to say which part of the business on the paper they intended to proceed with. A noble Viscount, who had attended the House forty years, when appealed to on one occasion told hon. Members that, if they sat in the House throughout the whole of the night, they would discover what the Government would do in the course of the evening. But all Members did not 1510 sit in the same exalted position as the noble Viscount, and they did not experience exactly the same pleasure which he did in sitting in the House throughout the whole of the night. Now, if the Government would undertake that if this Motion was agreed to they would on Tuesday evenings state before seven o'clock whether or not they intended to take Supply that night, he saw no objection to the Resolution; but if such an undertaking was withheld every hon. Member ought to vote against the change which was now proposed.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
The hon. Member has asked me whether, if this order is passed, we shall be prepared to state distinctly on Tuesday evenings, before seven o'clock, whether it is the intention of the Government to go into Committee of Supply? I have no hesitation whatever in entering into that engagement; but the intentions of the Government will, of course, be subject to the permission of the House, and to the fact that Motions occupying an intermediate position on the paper may last too long to admit of our going into Committee of Supply as intended.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, there was no safety in the Minister saying at seven o'clock what he intended to do, because that would simply keep every one waiting the whole night, and if they absented themselves, expecting intermediate business would occupy the House, but it failed to do so, Supply would be brought on in their absence, and important financial questions would be disposed of with the undue haste exhibited last year.
That the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means shall be fixed for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and may also be appointed for any other day on which the House shall meet for despatch of business.
Standing Orders of the House of the 2nd day of August, 1860,
That, unless the House shall otherwise direct, all Orders of the Day set down in the Order Book for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, shall be disposed of before the House will proceed upon any Motions of which Notices shall have been given," read.
§ Ordered, That the said Standing Order be repealed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, unless the House shall otherwise direct, all Orders of the Day set down in the Order Book for Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and 1511 Fridays, shall be disposed of before the House will proceed upon any Motions of which Notices shall have been given, the right being reserved to Her Majesty's Ministers of placing Government Orders at the head of the list, on every Order Day, except Wednesday."
§ MR. MONCKTON MILNES
said, he would move to insert, with regard to Thursdays, the words "after Easter." When he first entered that House Thursdays belonged to non-official Members; some time ago every alternate Thursday was taken by the Government; latterly they had lost Thursday evenings altogether, Friday being given up to them instead; and the object contemplated by these Resolutions was to take from private Members Friday as well as Thursday. It was highly convenient that in the early part of the year non-official Members should have possession of these evenings, because, in the ordinary course of business, no important Government measure received a second reading before Easter, while with notices of Motion the case was very different. During the recess private Members took up some subject which they believed ought to engage the attention of the House, and familiarized themselves with it; but it often happened that the House, when the subject was brought before them, did not feel equally interested, and either bestowed little attention upon it, or got rid of it altogether. A great deal of business, consequently, was got rid of before Easter, and after that period Tuesdays and Thursdays were no longer in equal demand. He could not agree with hon. Members that, because the time of the House had not been fully occupied on two or three Tuesday evenings, a general rule ought to be adopted, the effect of which would be to confine non-official Members to a single day during the week. That was a process of induction which he felt sorry that his right hon. and historical Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department should have adopted. The only effect of depriving Members of the opportunities which they at present enjoyed would be to throw more notices of Motion on the paper for Supply nights, and to create difficulties in the way of discharging the business of the country. He also believed that, by doing away with what he regarded as a very useful debate on the Motion of adjournment, they would spread over all the other days the notices which were now given for Friday evenings.
said, the second Resolution should be read in connection with the third and fourth Resolutions, with which it was intimately associated. At first Sight the rule by which the miscellaneous debate on the Motion of adjournment was done away with appeared to have the effect of taking Friday nights from private Members, and giving them to the Government; but in practice a more regular and constitutional form of debate on going into Committee of Supply, or of Ways and Means, was substituted for that now prevailing; and, as it was intended that one or other of these notices should always be put first upon the orders, two or three hours would be given to private Members for discussion under the system proposed. A Member giving a notice for Tuesday evening ran a great risk of being unable to bring it on. Under the proposed plan it was much more likely that he would have an opportunity of doing so, as the Government would have an interest in keeping the House.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
This is, in fact, the most material of the propositions submitted to the consideration of the House; and, in order to arrive at a conclusion on the subject, let us look at the relative amount of time assigned to the Government and to independent Members from the beginning to the end of the Session. It would be a great mistake to suppose that this is any personal question between Members of the Government and independent Members of the House. The Government cannot make bricks without straw they cannot pass Bills if time for their discussion be not allowed them. It is no selfish desire that prompts us to propose this Resolution; in fact, it is a much less laborious task to watch the Motions of unofficial Members than to defend our own bills, and so far, therefore, as the self-regarding interests of the Government are concerned, I am not sure that it would not be advantageous to them if, instead of increasing the time at their disposal, the time allotted to them were diminished. It is solely a public question how much of the time of the House it is 1513 advantageous to devote to measures initiated by Members of the Government, and how much to those initiated by unofficial Members. The ordinary state of things is this—the Government have two nights in the week which are order nights, and on which Government orders have precedence of other orders. Those nights are Mondays and Thursdays. There are two nights upon which notices of Motions have precedence of orders. Those two nights are Tuesday and Friday, which may be considered as exclusively at the command of unofficial Members. Then there is Wednesday, which is exclusively assigned to Bills of unofficial Members. Three out of five nights are, therefore, according to the ordinary course of business, allotted to independent Members. I should think that that simple statement would be sufficient to answer the complaint made by the hon. Member for Norfolk that there exists any disposition on the part of the Government to gag independent Members. In addition to these two nights and one day of which unofficial Members have the control, they have, likewise, a very considerable share of the two nights belonging to the Government on the question of going into Committee of Supply. According to the present arrangement, a large portion of the time allotted to the Government before Easter is devoted to Committee of Supply. On every one of those nights it is competent to Members to bring on Motions on going into Committee of Supply, It sometimes occurred that these Motions occupied the whole night, and I should scarcely exaggerate were I to say that I do not think the Government before Easter had the exclusive use of more than one night in the week. The hon. Member for Norfolk said he thought the real cause of delay was that the Government did not bring forward their Bills early in the Session. A more unfounded complaint it is impossible to make. I myself brought in several Bills early in the Session in the vain hope that they might receive discussion; but, although certainly I have lost no opportunity of discussing them, I have only been able to postpone them from day to day. It was utterly impossible to find any time on which Government Bills, not of first-rate importance, could receive the attention of the House. One Government Bill of great importance—the Bankruptcy Bill—certainly occupied some time, but that was the only legislative business of the Government which it was possible to bring forward be- 1514 fore Easter. The result of the present arrangement of the business of the House is that, with regard to legislation, the initiative is wholly taken from the Government for the first half of the Session;—practically they initiate nothing, and the entire initiative of legislative measures is vested in private Members, who are able to bring forward on successive Wednesdays questions which might with advantage be postponed to measures of more general interest which the Government were prepared to bring forward. What is proposed is—and after the explanation of the noble Lord it does not appear a very far-reaching or dangerous innovation—to give the Government for the disposal of their orders the remnant of Friday. It is not proposed practically to abolish the miscellaneous discussions which now take place on the adjournment of the House. Friday being an order night, the Government will put the Committee of Supply as the first order, and that will give hon. Gentlemen an opportunity of making Motions and speeches, as now, on the question of adjournment till Monday. There were, in last Session, a good many days on which the debate upon these Motions did not terminate till past nine or ten o'clock, and I think on one or two occasions not till past eleven. I ask the House, then, to consider whether giving the Government the remnant of Friday for their orders would in practice amount to any great increase of the time at their command? That would enable us on some few Fridays in the early part of the Session to bring forward those Bills which it is now necessary to postpone, and so add to the general convenience of the House. The present system does not work conveniently to private Members, who complain of those frequent postponements of measures which are its inevitable consequence. I trust the proportion between the time assigned to the Government and that allotted to private members will not be thought to be unreasonably disturbed by the proposition, which, as far as it goes, will tend to the general convenience of the House; and, therefore, I shall be prepared to give my vote against the Motion of the hon. Member for Pontefract, and in favour of the Resolution as it stands.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
This Resolution and the two following Resolutions all relate to the arrangements for business on Fridays, and they ought, therefore, to be dealt with together. I am astonished 1515 that a friend of progress like the hon. Member for Pontefract should have moved an Amendment of so retrograde a character. A great improvement was effected last year by placing the Thursdays instead of the Fridays at the Government's disposal; but the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman would throw the House back upon the old objectionable arrangement which deprived the Government of the Thursdays, and gave them the mere remnant of the Fridays, after the Motion for Adjournment till Monday had been agreed to, thereby retarding, instead of expediting the transaction of business. I earnestly hope, therefore, that the House will not entertain a proposal that virtually repeals the very beneficial change made last Session. With respect to the practice of introducing all sorts of desultory discussions on the Motion for Adjournment on Friday, it is now proposed to get rid of that acknowledged irregularity which has only been tolerated for the sake of its incidental convenience. It is important that, whatever decision we may arrive at on this point, we should not act under any misapprehension as to the real nature of the Resolution before us. Some hon. Gentlemen evidently take an erroneous view of the effect of the Committee's recommendation on the privileges of independent Members. It is quite true that, by our present rules, when one Motion has been made on the proposal that the Speaker leave the chair, preliminary to our going into Committee of Supply, no other Motion can be made or question decided. Still, after that Motion has been disposed of, and the Main Question has become the question, "that the Speaker leave the chair," the right remains to every hon. Gentleman to address the House upon that question, and it is perfectly open to hon. Members to bring forward in succession, just as they now do on Fridays, as many different subjects as they please. I hope, therefore, there will be no indisposition shown to the adoption of one of the mildest changes that could he proposed, and which, while it seeks to correct an admitted irregularity, does not diminish but, in one respect, increases the privileges of private Members. Is there anything unfair in asking for the Government the remainder of the Friday nights after the Notices of Motion are over? The little use now made by independent Members of their Tuesdays has been alluded to; but the reason for that is that those Gentlemen feel that if they 1516 avail themselves of that opportunity to bring forward any question in which they are interested they have the fear of that "arithmetical process" to which the noble Lord referred hanging over them, and rather than be counted out they forbear to exercise their privilege. As to this Resolution being an encroachment on the rights of independent Members, those Gentlemen should recollect that, however inclined they may be to take part in our proceedings in the earlier portion of the Session, their numbers fall off very considerably about the end of July, and fifty or sixty Members are left in the month of August to hurry through what remains of our Legislative duties in a manner that does not contribute much to the credit of this House. I think it is worth the while of independent Members, therefore, to make some small sacrifice, such as that now asked of them, in order to remove the stigma attaching to the mode in which public business is transacted under the circumstances I have described.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
maintained that the change from the Friday to the Thursday as a Government night worked injuriously to non-official Members, and also denied that the adoption of the hon. Member for Ponte-fract's Amendment would be a retrograde movement.
§ LORD HOTHAM
said, it was alleged that, Supply being at the bottom of the list, Government would keep a House, but no one could persuade him that, in the face of two or three hostile Motions, or even of one inconvenient Motion, the Government would keep a House with a view to the chance of getting to the Government business. When observations were made about counting out, he would remind them that Mr. Canning held it to be the duty of Government to keep a House. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was justified in the remarks he had made in reference to counts out, inasmuch as the Government to which he belonged contributed very much to produce those very results with respect to which he had been so facetious. That such was the case he was in a position to state, for he had been in the House on each of the eventful occasions in question, and had been a witness of the movements by which on those, as on all other occasions, they were preceded. When a "count out" was in contemplation some of the subordinate Members of the Government come into the House, look about for a short time, 1517 then disappear, very soon afterwards come in again, get into conversation with hon. Members, with whom they retire into the lobby, and that process having been resorted to to a sufficient extent some mysterious personage, who had managed to get close to the Speaker, whispered into his ear that there were not forty Members present and immediately vanished, so that it frequently happened the House did not know to whom it was indebted for the speedy release from business which followed. Now, when the Government themselves were guilty of aiding and abetting in those cases, they had, in his opinion, scarcely so good a claim to ask hon. Members to assent to certain Resolutions with the view of facilitating the transaction of public business as they would have had, had they not to some extent assisted in creating the evils the existence of which they deprecated. On two occasions, lately, for example, a Notice of an important character had stood on the Paper in the name of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Sir Frederic Smith); indeed the notice involved nothing more nor less than a vote of want of confidence in the Board of Admiralty, and one would naturally have supposed that the Members of the Government would have been in their places to meet the Motion; but, with the exception of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty, none of them were there. The House was counted out, and two opportunities of bringing on the question were lost. His hon. and gallant Friend had, therefore, been obliged to fix his Notice for a night on which the House was to be asked to go into Committee of Supply, so that, in all probability, unnecessary delay in the progress of public business—the very thing which the Government said they wished to avoid—would, owing to the course which they had pursued, be created. He wished, before he sat down, to urge upon the Government, as a means of promoting the object which they sought to attain, the expediency of laying the Estimates on the table as soon as the House assembled for the Session. That course, he contended, there could be very little difficulty in adopting, inasmuch as in the Speech from the Throne at the opening of Parliament the words "I have directed the Estimates for the year to be laid before you," and "they have been prepared with a view to economy," almost invariably occurred. If, then, acting upon that announcement— 1518 which must be correct—for no Minister would put into the mouth of the Sovereign words which were not justified by the fact—the Government were to lay the Estimates on the table, and as soon as hon. Members had had an opportunity of examining them proceed to their consideration—great progress might be made in passing them before the busy period of the Session had arrived. He should simply add that, being convinced the Resolutions proposed could only produce one of two effects—that they would either fail to accomplish the objects of those who brought them forward, or practically place the entire command over the House in the hands of the occupants of the Treasury bench, he had deemed it to be his duty to go into the lobby with the minority in the division which had just taken place.
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
said, it was difficult to suppose that the scene described by the noble Lord could occur when there was any Motion of importance; that though the Motion was so important there were not forty Members who would support the proposer by keeping a House for him.
§ Question, "That those words he there inserted," put, and negatived.
§ MR. MONCKTON MILNES
said, he believed it would still be in the power of the Government to prevent private Members from bringing on Motions which would he inconvenient to them. The substitution of Supply for the adjournment of the House would he ineffective to insure an opportunity to Members to bring on their Motions for discussion. If it was intended that the Motion to go into Supply should be a real one the Government would keep a House. If it was intended to he a sham the condition of private Members would be the same as at present. He thought the Government were doing wrong in attempting to draw too tightly the rules of business, as he believed that much of the good humour and gentlemanly character of the House arose from the freedom which it enjoyed, and if that freedom were taken away they would fall into the state which unhappily prevailed in some other deliberate Assemblies, where private animosities acting against public men operated injuriously to the character of the Assembly and to the country.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
pointed out that if the Motion for going into Supply was a real one private Members were sure of an opportunity of bringing on their Motions, and if it was a sham they 1519 would be only in the same position as at present.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
That, unless the House shall otherwise direct, all Orders of the Day set down in the Order Book for Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, shall be disposed of before the House will proceed upon any Motions of which Notices shall have been given, the right being reserved to Her Majesty's Ministers of placing Government Orders at the head of the list on every Order Day, except Wednesday.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the House, when it meets on Friday, shall, at its rising, stand adjourned until the following Monday, without any Question being put, unless the House shall otherwise resolve.
§ MR. W. EWART
observed, that they ought to hesitate before they adopted the Resolution. At present the Motion for adjournment on Friday was made the occasion for putting questions accompanied by short explanations upon which no regular debate arose; but he feared that the change proposed would lead to regular debates on Friday, as experience taught them that a whole night was frequently occupied in a discussion which arose upon the Motion for going into Committee of Supply.
observed, that the discussions upon various topics upon the Motion for adjournment were not always so brief as the hon. Member appeared to suppose, and he could not see what harm could be done by the change proposed.
§ MR. AYRTON
pointed out that when no Committee of Ways and Means or of Supply was open hon. Members would have no opportunity of putting questions accompanied by explanations. He would suggest as an Amendment that the words "when any Committee of Ways and Means or of Supply be open" be added at the commencement of the Resolution. He hoped also that it would be understood that upon a Committee of Ways and Means it would be competent to discuss the same questions as upon going into Committee of Supply.
§ Amendment proposed, after the word "That" to insert the words "while the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means are open.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he must admit that there had been an abuse of the opportunity afforded by the Motion for Adjournment, but he did not believe that the House wished entirely to get rid of that opportunity. There was a difficulty which might arise under the proposed Resolution 1520 which he hoped the noble Viscount would consider. If upon the Motion for going into Committee of Supply on Thursday a Member introduced a subject which led to a protracted and adjourned debate, that adjourned discussion must be renewed on the Friday, and must be brought to a termination before any Member could make another Motion or suggest any other. He thought, therefore, that some step ought to he taken to prevent any adjourned debate having that priority on Friday. He also wished to call attention to the reference by the Committee to the subject of proceeding with opposed business after one o'clock. A few nights since a Resolution agreeing to the income tax was passed at two o'clock, which was not an hour at which so important a subject should be brought on. He hoped the noble Viscount would agree that no opposed business should be commenced after one o'clock if objection was made.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, the hon. Member's objection referred to the case of a debate arising on the Thursday on the question that Mr. Speaker leave the Chair, which was adjourned over until the Friday. No doubt, practically, such debate would take precedence on the Friday, and, therefore, in that single instance the proposal now made would curtail the latitude at present enjoyed. But when it was considered how very seldom that particular case arose, he thought it would be hardly worth while to make any exception to the Resolution on that account.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
said, he believed that under the new rule an adjourned debate would not have precedence of a Motion for a Committee of Supply or Ways and Means.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that when a debate was being adjourned to the Friday some special arrangement might be made for the purpose of meeting the case to which the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had referred.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, that the Committee of Supply was open on nearly every Friday throughout the Session. Therefore, he had no objection to the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets.
MR. DANBY SEYMOUR
said, he regretted the loss of the Friday, though the right of putting questions on the Motion of adjournment had been somewhat abused. He thought the Government had been to 1521 a great degree responsible for the delays caused by the abuses the Resolutions already passed had remedied. If a House were not made on Tuesdays, Motions accumulated on the nights of Supply.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted,"
§ Put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
That, while the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means are open, the House, when it meets on Friday, shall, at its rising, stand adjourned until the following Monday, without any Question being put, unless the House shall otherwise resolve.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That while the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means are open, the first Order of the Day on Friday shall be either Supply, or Ways and Means, and that on that Order being read, the Question shall be proposed, 'That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.'
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, he would now move, as an Amendment, to add to the Resolution the words of which he had given notice—
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words,
And, in order to regulate the order of Questions put to Ministers, or of Motions on going into Committee of Supply and Ways and Means, such Questions and Motions shall be placed consecutively on the Paper, in reference to the particular Minister to whom they may be addressed.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that the Resolution applied only to Friday nights, whereas the Amendment referred to all notices on going into Committee of Supply, and, therefore, the proper mode of proceeding would be for the bun. Member to submit bis proposition as a substantive Motion. If the House thought that the proposition would tend to the convenient despatch of business, be would, so far as he was concerned, offer no objection to it.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
said, he was sure that the House would sympathize deeply in his feeling of regret that the Speaker was not present during the present important discussion, but be could state from communications with the right hon. Gentleman that the Speaker deprecated that the responsibility should be thrown on him of giving precedence to any hon. Member. The Speaker's power depended on his strict impartiality and the general goodwill thereby created, but 1522 a regulation such as that proposed would place him in a most invidious position.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, it was quite impossible, after what has been just stated, that the House could agree to the Amendment, which, in its present state, would give to the Speaker the tremendous power of deciding whether a Motion on finance, or one on foreign policy, should first come on.
§ MR. AYRTON
observed that under the present practice hon. Members could give positive notice of a Motion or question for the Friday on the Motion of Adjournment; but with respect to notices on the Motion of Supply, such notices were not given for any particular day, but for the first Supply night. He wished, therefore, to know whether the same practice which now prevailed in reference to the Motion of Adjournment on Friday would be made applicable to the Motion for the Committee of Supply on Friday.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he apprehended that, as the first order on Friday must be, under the Resolution, either "Supply" or "Ways and Means," it would be quite competent for gentlemen to give positive notice of bringing forward a question on going into Committee of Supply, or of Ways and Means on Friday.
§ Amendment by leave withdrawn
§ Main Question, put, and agreed to.
That while the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means are open, the first Order of the Day on Friday shall be either Supply or Ways and Means, and that on that Order being read, the Question shall be proposed 'That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.'
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That when a Public Bill has been committed to a Select Committee, and reported to the House, the Bill, as amended, shall be appointed for Consideration on a future day; when, unless the House shall order the Bill generally, or specially in respect of any particular Clause or Clauses thereof, to be re-committed to a Committee of the whole House, the Bill, after the consideration of the Report, may be ordered to be read a Third Time.
said, that a great principle was involved in this Resolution, to which he should be sorry to see the House give its consent. The House was now asked to hand over to a Committee of fifteen Gentlemen any Bill that the majority of the House might think it good so to hand over to them, and allow them to determine the character of the legislation with respect to it. Take, for example, the 1523 Parochial Assessments Bill. It had passed a second reading on the understanding that it was to go to a Select Committee. That Bill was likely to go undergo very important alterations in Committee, and was the House to have no opportunity of considering the, perhaps, altogether changed machinery of the measure? Take, again, the Wine Licensing Bill of last Session. With the majority at his back, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have selected fifteen Gentlemen to consider that Bill. The Committee might have sent it back without the alteration of a line, and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the aid of his majority, might have prevented its recommitment. They might be told that public opinion would prevent such things, but he thought the forms of the House ought to prevent them, and that they ought not for the sake of saving a little time to make such an alteration in their practice. He would recommend the Government to postpone this Resolution, in order that it, might be seen whether some safeguard could not be introduced against inconsiderate legislation on the part of the majority, which would very often end in public inconvenience. There was another Bill before the House—the Highways Bill, and he hardly ever remembered a Session without one. If the Resolution had been in existence fourteen or fifteen years ago, and if a Highways Bill had been sent to a Committee upstairs, it would have been law long ago, although whether the public would have benefited was a more doubtful matter. Such measures ought not to be decided without full discussion in that House. If the Resolution were carried the Government would nominate eight Members on a Committee, and the Opposition seven; there would be no security for their attendance; any five might settle the clauses; and then the Bill would come down to the House and be adopted without further discussion.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
said, he distrusted his own judgment when he differed with his right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley), and certainly the objections he had stated to the Resolution were serious. The matter, however, specially referred to the Select Committee was how the despatch of public business could best be promoted; and he did not believe that all the recommendations of the Committee put together would be half so conducive to that end as the adoption of the Resolution now before the House. That was not his opinion only, 1524 but the opinion of the two highest authorities—one in that House and the other of the Speaker who had lately left it, they both had delivered a joint opinion in favour of this change. His right hon. Friend had referred to Consolidation Bills, and said a great principle was often in volved in them. He agreed in that opinion, and he was sorry not to see in their places the law officers of the Crown, especially his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, with whom he had been in communication on this subject. He should say that a pure Consolidation Bill might safely be intrusted to a Committee under the Resolution, when introduced upon the responsibility of the Government. The Consolidation Bill now upstairs, for example, had been introduced by the Solicitor General, who was presiding in a Committee which was considering the measure. He could not agree with his right hon. Friend that in a pure Consolidation Bill there would be any danger in continuing existing legal punishments. They had already received the sanction of the Legislature. Where an alteration was made in the punishment there was amendment, and without amendment consolidation was valueless. The Report from the Committee would specify all alterations of that description, and if they appeared to be so important that they ought to be considered in Committee of the whole House, a facility was given by the Resolution for recommitting these special clauses to a Committee of the whole House. A Bill had come down from the Upper House consisting of 800 pages. It was a most excellent measure of law reform, absolutely repealing all the statutes that had fallen into desuetude. A Committee of the whole House was not well suited for considering such a measure. But it should be sent upstairs, with an able lawyer connected with the Government responsible for its examination. Let him call before the Committee those who had framed the Bill, and let the Committee, after examining the statutes said to have fallen into desuetude, send the Bill down for a third reading. The course to be taken by the House was then easy. Nothing would be referred to a Committee of the whole House but doubtful points. It might be said that a principle was involved; but he could conceive no better safeguard than the discretion of the House as to the question whether a Bill should be referred partly or entirely to a Committee of the whole House. In cases 1525 where the principle was so interlaced with the details that you could not separate them—as, for example, in the Parochial Assessment Bill and the Highways Bill—the application of the rule was never contemplated. In all such doubtful cases the measure would be considered as at present in a Committee of the whole House. If it were thought desirable words might be introduced into the recommendation narrowing its application in the way he had pointed out, or the Resolution might be adjourned until the hon. and learned Attorney General could take part in the discussion.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, he confessed that be partook a good deal of the jealousy expressed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) with regard to the proposition, which, in fact, substituted first the decision of a Select Committee, and then that a majority of the House for the consent of Parliament. Hon. Members might consent to refer a Bill to a Select Committee, in the hope that certain objectionable clauses might be expunged, and yet when it came out of the Committee it might still contain those objectionable provisions. In such a case were Members who voted for the second reading, being a minority, to be precluded from discussing the question in Committee of the whole House? His right hon. Friend (Sir James Graham) said there was no danger in admitting the principle as regarded Consolidation Bills. But suppose a Bill for the consolidation of the criminal law, in which a penalty of death was inflicted for many offences, and an hon. Member wished to restrict the death penalty to one such offence, he would not be able to do so unless the Bill were considered in Committee of the whole House. Now, in the Select Committee very few Members might have attended, and then there might be a division of 105 votes to 100, by which small majority it would be decided that the Bill should not come before the Committee of the whole House. To the proposal as it stood he saw in principle great objections, and, for his own part, he should be inclined to allow even one Member, as in the case of the withdrawal of a Motion, the right of objecting to the exclusive consideration of any Bill by a Select Committee. If the measure had undergone the examination of a Select Committee and Members were convinced that it would be better to proceed at once to discuss the third reading, he did not think any single Member would 1526 be so vexatious as to oppose himself to the general feeling of the House. But he would give any single Member the power of objecting, because, it being the established mode of legislation to consider a Bill in Committee of the whole House no Member ought to be deprived of the right to require that that system should be adhered to. His right hon. Friend said that if the House wished for expedition they would agree to the proposal. Expedition, no doubt, was one of the chief qualities required in the Executive, but although desirable, it was not the most important feature of legislation. Above all, it was necessary to legislate well and cautiously, and, compared with that expedition was of subordinate importance.
said, he did not doubt that the change now proposed would be greater and more important than that effected by any of the other Resolutions; and he fully concurred therefore in the opinion that the House should have more time to consider it. But if they were not prepared to adopt, at any rate to a certain extent, some such means for expediting Parliamentary business, they might just as well put aside altogether and for ever all those plans so often talked of for consolidating the statute law. Consolidation meant the dealing with thirty or forty volumes of statutes, and reducing them to three or four. As the new consolidated laws would equal in bulk the legislation of three or four Sessions, it must be obvious that if each of these Bills was to go through the ordinary ordeal of a Committee of the whole House, the House would never have the time to take the work really in hand; particular subjects might be dealt with, but anything like consolidation of the law, as a whole, would be quite out of the question. As to the suggestion of the noble Lord, that one Member should have the power of compelling the reference of a Bill to a Committee of the whole House, he apprehended that it would render the Resolution wholly ineffectual. He could not help thinking, too, that, while there was some weight in his objections, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) had overstated the case in declaring that it was proposed to assimilate the public to the private business of the House. There was, in fact, nothing analogous between the two cases. A private Bill was not generally considered, even upon the second reading. The Committee to which it was sent decided both upon its principle and its de- 1527 tails, and as to both it was the general rule of the House to abide by the decision of the Committee. Nothing of that kind was proposed in this case, and if the Resolution passed as it stood it would be in the power of any considerable number of Members to require that any part of a Bill should go to a Committee of the whole House; it would be utterly impossible for any majority, however strong their feelings might be, to refuse compliance with such a demand. For the last century the tendency of their practice had been to take out of the hands of the House the details of legislation and to confide them to Select Committees. There was a time when election petitions were tried by the whole House, and when private Bills were decided by larger Committees than at present, but as the pressure of business increased, the House had in practice delegated to certain of its Members powers which it had before exercised collectively. With regard to the present Resolution, there might be difficulties connected with it, but be believed that some such rule would be found requisite.
§ MR. DEEDES
said, that he had already expressed his doubts as to the wisdom of the Resolution when it was before the Committee, as he believed its adoption might lead to great injustice. Subsequent reflection had only confirmed him in that opinion. For instance, when a Bill came down to the House from a Select Committee a hostile majority might object to a reconsideration before a Committee of the Whole House, and many essential parts of the Bill which the Member who introduced it desired to retain might be rejected. There was also another point that it was desirable to attain, to prevent the waste of time that occurred in certain cases in discnssing the clauses of the Bills which had come down from Select Committees; in cases where no objection was raised by any one it was advisable that the progress of a Bill should be facilitated. He did not wish to submit the precise words for the adoption of the House, but it had occurred to him that if the course were not adopted of postponing the Resolution the following Amendment would be desirable:—"That when a public Bill shall have been referred to a Select Committee and reported upon, and the Bill as amended has been appointed for consideration at a future day, then, unless any Member should require the Bill generally or especially with respect to any particular clause or clauses to be sent to a 1528 Committee of the Whole House, the House should at once proceed to the third reading," and so forth, following the words of the Resolution.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he thought that some such proposition as that made by his noble Friend (Lord John Russell), and supported by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Deedes), would give sufficient security to the House against the evils apprehended from the Resolution as it now stood. Or, Bills that were not consolidating might be stated as not included in the clause. But perhaps the best course would be to withdraw the clause and postpone, in the meantime, the further consideration of the subject.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn. Ordered, That the said Resolutions be Standing Orders of this House.
§ On the Motion that the House at its rising adjourn till Monday,