HC Deb 01 April 1862 vol 166 cc404-10

, in moving that a Select Committee be appointed to consider whether it is practicable to provide a Compendious Record of Parliamentary Proceedings for the use of Members, said, that there were at present, practically, two records of those proceedings—the Votes, which were circulated from day to day, and the Journals, forming that ancient constitutional Code, if he might so term it, which, was made up at the end of the Session from the Votes, and which furnished the legal Record of the Proceedings of the House of Commons. With respect to the Votes, he might observe that it was not until comparatively recent times they were regularly received by the Members of the House; it was to Speaker Abbott, he believed, that hon. Members were indebted for the punctuality in their delivery, which caused them to be laid now, and for some years past, as regularly on their breakfast tables as The Times newspaper. Of the Journals of the House he was not disposed to say anything in disparagement. They were the great storehouses in which information was to be sought with reference to the practice and privileges of the Lower Branch of the Legislature. In any case of difficulty or doubt which arose with regard to the practice or those privileges, they were consulted; nor was it by any means the object of his Motion to depreciate their value. It must, however, be admitted that as books of reference they were inconvenient, cumbrous, and for some purposes incomplete. They consisted, he believed, of 116 volumes, and, practically speaking, it would be impossible for Members to have' those Records in their own mansions. It was very right that a record should be kept of everything the House did; but it could not be denied that a vast amount of the business which was set down on the Journals was of a character wholly unimportant. They contained, for instance, a large mass of entries connected with Private Business and of unopposed Returns. Every Return presented to the House in obedience to its order was entered in the Journals; indeed, the substantial portion of the entries related to such business as he had just mentioned, while a very small portion of them indeed had reference to those proceedings of the House which were the subject of general interest. He had taken the entries made at haphazard, and he found that on the Journal of last year there were for the 22nd of March 69 separate entries, 27 of which related to Private Business, 21 to Returns presented. 11 to Returns ordered; so that, out of the 69, 10 only were devoted to public business. He also found that on the 25th of April in last year only 8 out of 46 entries had reference to business of general interest. It was clear, therefore, he thought, that those records formed a very cumbrous mass. But beyond that they were, as he had said before, incomplete. They furnished, for example, no account of the proceedings of the other House of Parliament; so that Members of the House of Commons had no means through the medium of any record of their own of ascertaining how the business went on which was sent up to the other branch of the Legislature, The House of Lords, it was true, also kept Journals, and they were to be found in the library; but, as a matter of fact, the volumes for the last two years had not been printed; so the account of their proceedings was in arrear—the consequence being, that if any hon. Member wished to inform himself as to the progress of business in that House during those two years, he must take the trouble of wading through the Minutes, which corresponded with the Votes of the House of Commons. That being so, he thought he was justified in maintaining that the Journals of the House were inconvenient as books of reference; that they were stuffed with a large amount of matter which was of little importance, and that they were, moreover, incomplete. Now, what was required under those circumstances was some "Handy Book," which would enable Members to refer to the business of past Sessions, and ascertain without trouble its progress in both Houses of Parliament. The present was the age of "Handy Books," to the compilation of which no less a person than Lord St. Leonards—not to speak of many other distinguished men—had turned his attention. It was said that there was no Royal road to learning; but a book of that description dealing with the subject of Parliamentary Proceedings would, he had no doubt, tend very much to facilitate the transaction of the business of the House. He did not say that we did many things better than our forefathers, but there could be no question that we did things more quickly, and that we had more things to do. It was therefore desirable that we should have as many short cuts to knowledge as possible. He believed that the great majority of hon. Members were furnished with a book entitled "The Parliamentary Record for 1861," which supplied, to a very great extent, the want to which he rose to call attention. That book in a very small compass afforded information as to the various stages of important business in the other House of Parliament, and contained an excellent index. There were also all the material proceedings in this House last Session, with a good index, enabling every hon. Member who might be so disposed to trace the course of public business. He might cite the entries relative to the Qualification for Offices Bill, which was passed through the House last Session, but was lost in another place. On consulting the Journals of the House, he found in the index references to a great number of pages. To look up those pages, and then to run down the long columns as to what was done, would be a work of some time and difficulty. In the index of the publication to which he had alluded all the proceedings on the same Bill were entered as follows:— Qualification for Offices Bill.—Ordered to be brought in by Mr. Hadfield, Sir M. Peto, Mr. Kershaw, and Mr. Baines, and presented and read 1° 6 Feb. On Motion, for fid reading, amendment by Mr. Newdegate to read it 2°'this day six months;' debate thereon; House divides:—Ayes 80, noes 93, Majority 13; Bill read second time, 20th of February. Committed and reported without amendment, 6 March. Read 3° 7 March. That was a clear and brief summary of what was done with respect to the Qualification for Offices Bill in that House, and told one in half a second what on wanted to know, without making numerous references to the pages of the Journals. The Journals, moreover, told nothing of the proceedings on the Bill in the House of Lords; whereas the new publication, by two short references, gave the whole history of the measure in both Houses. It was said that all the necessary information might be got in Hansard; but every hon. Member: knew that the index in Hansard, like the index in the Journals, merely consisted of a; mass of references to the different volumes and pages. He did not ask the House to, pledge itself to any decision on the, subject, which, however, was one that ought to be carefully considered by a Select Committee. The duty of preparing such a record as he had indicated could not well be discharged by the officers of that House, inasmuch as it necessarily embraced in its purview the Proceedings of the House of Lords, and it would not be consistent with the position of the Commons relatively to the Lords that they should send their officers to pick up information for them in the other House. He would not now state, how he thought the thing could be done, but he trusted the House would send the matter to a Select Committee; and if the scheme should turn out to be impracticable, they would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that they had attempted to obtain a simple and compendious record of their proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for "A Select Committee to consider whether it is practicable to provide a compendious record of Parliamentary Proceedings for the use of Members."


seconded the Motion.


objected to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock on two grounds. One was, that though not directly or in distinct terms, vet virtually it infringed a rule which had always hitherto been observed—namely, that whatever was printed bearing reference to the Proceedings of the House should emanate only from the authority of the Speaker. The other was, that it might be drawn into a precedent for giving encouragement to something like a job in favour of some particular publisher or some particular author. If it were not for the high opinion which he entertained for the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, he should take the liberty of proposing that the matter should be postponed; but since the proposition came from a right hon. Gentleman who had long occupied a position inferior only to that of the Speaker, and was approved by another whose authority all would readily acknowledge, he would not press his objection further on the present occasion. He hoped, however, that the Committee about to be appointed would look cautiously into the matter; and not give their sanction to any proposition such as that indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock unless they were satisfied, first, that the scheme would, not interfere with the privileges and prerogatives of the Speaker; and, secondly, that it was not likely to be drawn into a precedent which might be prejudicial to the conduct of the proceedings of the House.


admitted, that if they were to have a Select Committee, it was most proper that the two points to which his right hon. Friend had directed his observations should be carefully considered. The grounds upon which he was anxious that the matter should be inquired into might be briefly stated. He thought it was expedient that they should have a compendium of their Proceedings independently of those larger collections which were contained in the Journals. Those who were accustomed to consult the Journals would agree with him that there could not be a more unwelcome task than that of taking down folio volume after folio volume in order to discover a reference upon which they wished to act. He did not regard the proposed publication as a substitute for the Journals, for the Votes, or for Hansard, but as something intermediate. It was a manual which every gentleman might have on his table, and in which he might find on one page, if the work were well indexed, a reference to all the proceedings with respect to which he desired to inform himself. If he wanted fuller information, he could go to Hansard. The importance of the observations which his right hon. Friend had addressed to the House could not be doubted. If the proposition contained anything which could possibly interfere with the authority of the Speaker, he should be the last to give it his support; but he was persuaded, that if the Committee were well selected, which he had no doubt it would be, it would not allow anything to be done in the way of interference with the authority of the Chair. He believed that proper checks and guards could easily be devised to prevent any such interference: and if that were so, the proposed publication would be so valuable and convenient that he thought it ought to receive every encouragement. So, with respect to the second objection of his right hon. Friend. Care should be taken to avoid the perpetration of a job; but he believed there was nothing of the kind to be apprehended in the present instance. What the Committee would have to consider was, whether they could really get a valuable compendium which it would be worth while for the House to sanction. He was convinced that the publication would materially assist all who took part in the proceedings of the House; and, speaking for himself, he entertained the hope that it would save him many a half-hour which would otherwise be spent in a laborious and tiresome search of the Journals.


suggested, that "desirable" should be substituted for "practicable" in the Motion, or that both should be inserted, making the words run "practicable and desirable." As to a compendious record, he thought they had a very excellent compendium already in The Parliamentary Record, referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. What they wanted was accurate and authorized reports of the debates and proceedings of the House.


said, that the House had never adopted such a course as that proposed. They were indebted to Mr. Hansard for a valuable enterprise; but during the whole time of its existence the House had never assisted that gentleman with a single shilling. He thought the day would come when they must have reports of their own, and he could not conceive that anything better could be done than to place a Parliamentary corps under the superintendence of Mr. Hansard. The Parliamentary Remembrancer of Mr. Toulmin Smith, however, was a work to which he had subscribed for the last three years, and he had found it to be of very great assistance; and he thought that to adopt the book referred to by the right hon. Member would be to give anundue preference and favour to one particular author. As he understood it, the work now in contemplation would give parts of speeches and portions of debates: what security, he asked, could there be that these selections would be made with fairness and impartiality? He saw some grave objections to the course proposed, lest there might be any invasion of the privileges of the House or lest it might be unjust to Mr. Hansard. The best security which they could have for an accurate record of their proceedings was that of the admission generally of the public press; and every production of this kind might well rest on its own merits. However, if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) would consent to the Motion, he should not oppose it.


I have no objection to make to the proposal of my right hon. Friend. I have no doubt, if there could be afforded to Members of the two Houses a condensed compendium of the proceedings of each Session, it might be exceedingly useful. It is quite true that we have very accurate records already; but it is also true that those records are in a shape which makes them not very easy of reference. In the first place, with regard to the Journals, any one who refers to them must go to the libraries of one or the other House; whereas, in such a record as that now in contemplation, he would have the book to which he wanted to refer in his own possession. Therefore, I think the object is one well deserving the consideration of the Committee. On the other hand, there are, no doubt, circumstances which show that the proposal is one which ought to be maturely considered before it is: adopted. I think this is exactly the case in which the appointment of a Committee is a proper step to be taken; and if my right hon. Friend makes a good selection, of Members, I have no doubt that full consideration will be given to what the convenience of hon. Gentlemen may require, and what the privileges of the House may demand. If I. understand the matter rightly, I do not think that what is suggested will in way interfere with the publication of Hansard, which is a most wonderfully accurate record of what passes in debate—word for word very often. That which I understand my right hon. Friend to have in contemplation is a short statement or general outline of what Members may have said and of the proceedings of the House. I think, therefore, the proposal is one which may be properly adopted by the House on the grounds which I have stated.

Motion agreed to.