rose to moveThat so soon as the Estimates are ready, one night in each week be given to their consideration; Motions on going into Committee of Supply not being permitted on that day, except by special order of the House.This was not at all a party question, and he counted upon the co-operation of hon. Members on the other side of the House with as much confidence as he did upon that of those among whom he sat. He might say more—that, judging by the results of the last Session, very many hon. Members opposite showed much more zeal and desire to promote economy and to support retrenchment than many of those Gentlemen on his own side who ostentatiously put themselves forward as the champions of Financial Reform. Seeing that so very humble and inconspicuous a Member as himself sought to bring forward this Motion, he thought it due to the House that he should explain why he did so. On the 28th of June last, when they had a discussion on the business of the House, he was induced, as representing the listeners of the House—and he might say, without egotism also, that portion of the House which, by constant attendance and the punctual performance of their duties, tried to do their best for their constituents —in that capacity he was induced to make a suggestion that one day in each week should be set apart for the discussion of the Estimates. That suggestion received some favour from the House, and a great deal of favour outside the walls of the House. He well remembered that on one occasion the noble Lord at the head of the Government dwelt most feelingly on the state of matters in reference to public business. On that day there were 200 Votes to be passed in Supply, and on the Notice Paper for one evening there were twenty-nine Notices of Motion previous to going into Committee of Supply. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) in consequence of that discussion, on the 2nd August moved a series of Resolutions— one of which was to the exact effect of the one which he had now the honour to propose. That also was received with much favour by the House, and the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department rose in his place and said— 137The House would, therefore, he hoped, at the beginning of the next Session see reason to agree to the first Resolution, the adoption of which would not, he thought, unduly infringe on the rights of the private Members." [3 Hansard, clxiv. 1871.]Seeing this, he (Mr. White) was encouraged thus early to bring the matter before the House; and it was but due to his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, who gave notice at the close of last Session that he should bring forward his Resolution again, to say that he had kindly yielded to him (Mr. White) who originally made the suggestion, and agreed to second the Motion. He was not unaware that they had had several Committees who had taken into consideration the modes of procedure of that House. There was one in 1837, one in 1848, and another in 1854, and also one last year. With reference to the last Committee, however, he would observe that its number, twenty-one, consisted, with one or two exceptions, of Ministers, ex-Ministers, or expectant Ministers; and seeing the large portion of the public time which they would necessarily have to occupy, he could quite understand that they should treat most tenderly and with the utmost care any proposition which might seem to interfere with the rights of private Members. On May 30, of last year, a Resolution was come to, based on the recommendations of that Committee. The object of those recommendations might be gathered from an extract from the evidence of Lord Eversley, who said—In all the improvements we have endeavoured as much as possible to let the House understand exactly what questions they will have to discuss, and to prevent surprises, and also to give some certainty to our proceedings.The present Speaker strongly corroborated that opinion, and the Chairman of Ways and Means also urged the necessity of a closer approximation to certainty in the arrangement of public business. The constant object, therefore, was to prevent surprises and give certainty to their procedure. He might say that he was not at all wedded to the terms of his Motion. He brought it before the House in the fullest confidence that it would be treated in the manner it deserved. Had he consulted his own feelings, and deemed it fit to present a Resolution to the House on this subject, he would have preferred to frame a Motion based upon the suggestion of the Speaker, which was that the House having once gone into Committee on any branch of the Estimates, for the four great branches of 138 the public service—namely, the Army, the Navy, the Revenue Department, and the Civil Service—the Committee might resume its deliberations on the Order of the Day without the Question being put, and, I consequently, without the interposition of notices of Motions. In a word, that the same rule of progress that prevailed with regard to Committees on Bills might be extended to Committees on these four heads of Estimates. The adoption of that course was suggested to the Committee of 1854, but did not meet with the assent of that Committee. He thought he had shown to the House that there existed some necessity for a change in the present mode of proceeding. Again, in illustration of the uncertainty that prevailed in regard to progress in Committee of Supply, he could refer to the waste of time occasioned by Notices of Motion. In 1860 there were 157 Notices of Motion upon going into Committee of Supply, and upon each of the eleven occasions on which the House went into such Committee, there was wasted in the discussion of those notices, on the average, three hours. He could quite understand why, in previous Sessions, Members should be impatient of any encroachment upon their privileges that would deprive them of the opportunity for having a full and free discussion upon questions that they considered it was desirable and important to bring to the notice of the House; but it must be recollected that now on Friday nights full opportunity was afforded to Members for bringing before the House matters that they might deem of pressing interest. He did not, therefore, see why hon. Members should now object to his proposal. In order to show how heterogeneous were the questions that were raised by these motions, he held in his hand a list of some of the subjects that were brought before the House upon the motion for going into Committee of Supply on one evening of last Session. There were the subjects of Austria, New Zealand, Irish Education, the Lebanon, the Partry Evictions, Sardinia, Ecclesiastical Registrars, Mr. Adair, China, Non-intervention, the New Foreign Office, and the Civil Service examinations. Now, with all respect to the hon. Gentlemen who brought forward these questions, he put it to them whether any public interest would have been injured if they had done so on the Friday instead of upon the Motion for going into Committee of Supply? He did not undervalue the privileges 139 of honourable Members, and he would be the last person to do anything that would have a tendency to fetter the freedom of discussion in that House. He knew he should be told that he was putting forth an irreverent hand on the Ark of the Constitution and upon the time-honoured privileges of independent Members; that the right which he thought they might now dispense with was the palladium of our liberties, and that he had not sufficient respect for those glorious traditions that were bound up with the history of Parliament. But he must remind those who raised this objection that the whole aspect of society had been changed since the days when the only chance which our ancestors had of representing their grievances was when the Crown came to ask them for grants of money. All that he wished to destroy was the power which every hon. Member now possessed of caracolling his hobby without reference to the feelings of other hon. Members. He did not forget that formerly, when the Crown asked for a grant of money the subject was entitled to have hit grievances stated; but he also remembered that with our ancestors that was the only chance of pressing their grievances upon the Crown. That, however, was not the case now. Moreover, a most powerful element that had effected a great change in the condition of affairs had been brought into action—he alluded to the power of the press. It could not be supposed that in the present day the country would ever suffer from aggressions on the part of the Crown; but there was a fear, in which he shared, of aggressions from a bureaucracy; and the time might arrive when, unless some method were adopted by which they would be enabled to examine thoroughly and carefully into the expenditure of the country, they might come to be governed by clerks instead of statesmen. In reference to this subject he could not help referring to the increasing magnitude of our expenditure, which was admirably shown in a return moved for by the hon. Baronet, the Member for Evesham (Sir Henry Willoughby), in the last Session. On reference to that Return, he found that in the year 1835 there was voted for the army a sum of £7,484.350; in 1861 the amount was £15,273,751. The expenditure upon the navy amounted in 1835 to £4,245,723; in 1861 it reached £12,276,250. The united services therefore cost in 1835 £11,730,073; in 1861, £27,550,001. In 1835 the 140 Miscellaneous Estimates amounted to £2,393,182; in 1861 they had reached £7,848,069. The total sum voted in Supply in the year 1861 was £35,398,070; the sum voted in 1835 was only £14,123,255; and in making this comparison he had deducted from the amount voted in 1861 a sum of five millions, which was thrown upon Supply by the adoption of the system of paying the gross revenue into the Exchequer. Thus, since the year 1835 the expenditure upon the Army had doubled, and that upon the Navy and Miscellaneous Services had trebled, and during that time Parliament bad exercised no supervision or strict examination of the expenditure, but had uniformly voted any amount of money for which the Government chose to ask. There was one remarkable fact in connection with this appalling amount of expenditure, singular as it might appear, that, during this long course of years, the supervision that had been exercised with regard to the expenditure had literally done nothing to abridge the amount of the estimates or to save the money of the country; and whatever may have been the demands of the Government, the amount had been almost uniformly voted by that House, for during the whole of the period named the only subtraction from the Estimates was made in 1858, when the House, in a fit of virtuous indignation, struck off £300, the allowance for travelling expenses to the purchaser for the National Gallery. In 1859 an item somewhat similar in its character was struck out of the Estimates, but was afterwards reinstated. Of its numerous and varied functions, that which the House of Commons performed in the manner least creditable to itself was the duty of voting the Supplies and demanding a strict account of the expenditure of the country. In the, deservedly popular Constitutional History of their accomplished and excellent clerk, Mr. May, he found the following passage:—So far from opposing the demands of the Crown, the House of Commons have rather laid themselves open to the charge of a too facile an acquiescence in a constantly increasing expenditure. The people may have some grounds for complaining of their stewardship, but assuredly the Crown and its Ministers have none.It was not in the interest of Ministers, but acting on his own convictions, that he brought forward this motion, and he trusted to have the support of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. He did not pin himself to the exact terms 141 upon the paper, but was willing to submit to any modification which might more effectually accomplish the object he had in view, which was to give to the House of Commons some practical control over the expenditure of the country. Instances occurred last Session in which the hon. Baronet the Member for Evesham (Sir Henry Willoughby) the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Sir Frederic Smith) and the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Williams), though prepared to discuss particular portions of the Estimates, had been deceived by the number of preliminary notices on the paper, and, Supply coming on unexpectedly, the different items had been voted, without comment, in their absence. It was to the credit of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty that, having the opportunity of running the Naval Estimates through in a House containing not more than a score of members, he had reserved two Votes with regard to which he knew that a strong feeling and desire for discussion prevailed, because of the absence of hon. Members whom he knew to be interested in them, He would now move the Resolution, which he said he was encouraged to submit by the favour with which a similar proposition had been received last June, because he felt persuaded that there must be in the House, as there was out of doors, a feeling that hon. Members ought to address themselves more diligently to the Estimates when submitted, and that additional opportunities ought to be afforded for discussing them at length, seeing, too, that they had now attained to such a portentous magnitude.
§ MR. W. EWART
seconded the Motion. Last Session he himself introduced Resolutions calculated to accomplish this very purpose, but it was an act of courtesy as well as of justice to give his hon. Friend on this occasion the precedence to which he was entitled. Every improvement in the conduct of public business was of great importance and value; and he believed the present Motion to be of a practical character. While insuring, to a certain extent, the transaction of public business by giving certainty to the time for taking it, it would have the additional advantage of securing to hon. Members who came down, on a day fixed by the Government, prepared to discuss particular propositions, the opportunity of being heard. Both the present Speaker, and the late Speaker, Lord Eversley, in their evidence before 142 the Select Committee, had declared it to be of the utmost importance that certainty should prevail as to the business of the House—a result to which he ventured to think this Motion would conduce. The Committee of last Session, and the members of it individually, made several suggestions. He was anxious to learn how far these suggestions would be acted on by Government — particularly one with regard to Bills referred to Committees, which he thought of great importance. Hon. Members could not but feel that under the present procedure they were injuring their own health, and wearing the public patience, by nocturnal and post-nocturnal sittings unattended with any adequate results.
Motion and made, Question proposed,
That, so soon as the Estimates are ready, one night in each week he given to their consideration; Motions on going into Committee of Supply not being permitted on that day except by special order of the House.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY:
The hon. Gentleman for Brighton (Mr. White) has correctly stated what took place just before the close of the last Session of Parliament on this subject. In the first week of August the hon. Member for Dumfries submitted a string of Resolutions relating to the manner of conducting business in the House, and among them was the Resolution now moved by the hon. Member for Brighton. On that occasion I stated my objections to four out of the five Resolutions he proposed; but expressed, at the same time, my concurrence, not in the form, but in the substance of the other Resolution proposed by my hon. Friend, and now again submitted to the House. I thought it would conduce very much to the progress of a branch of public business, which I regard with him as one of the most important the House has to perform, if, on at least one day in the week, when Committee of Supply stood first upon the paper, it were known that the question of Supply would certainly be entered upon without the intervention of preliminary debates. I admit there is considerable force in what the hon. Member stated, that on many occasions these preliminary debates on the Order for going into Committee of Supply have lasted to a very late hour, and that after the House has been left in utter uncertainty as to the period at which these debates might end and when the attendance has become this, the Speaker has left the chair, the Chairman 143 of the Committee of Ways and Means has taken it, and the Estimates have been gone through, perhaps, in a manner hardly becoming the importance of the subjects under consideration. I stated at the same time that I thought a Resolution of this kind— I speak of the substance, not of the form—would not encroach unduly on the rights and privileges of private Members of the House. About two years ago the House sanctioned the practice of giving a third Order day (Thursday), with the express object of advancing public business. Previously to that the Government had only the command of two days, Monday and Friday, upon which Committee of Supply could be taken, and on Thursdays it would still remain open to hon. Members to raise discussions on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply. If, as a general practice, Thursday were specially appropriated to the consideration of the Estimates, and if on that day, Supply being the first Order of the Day, the Speaker were to leave the chair without Question put, and the House were immediately to resolve itself into Committee, I believe the Estimates would undergo a more searching investigation, and this branch of the business of the House would be more satisfactorily conducted. There would still remain to hon. Members the Monday and Friday, when. Supply standing as the first Order, it would be competent for them to make any Motion they pleased as an Amendment to that Order, or to call the attention of the House to any pressing and urgent business. The utmost delay that could take place, by not allowing this on Thursdays, would be one of twenty-four hours; and if a grievance of such magnitude should present itself that it could not admit even of that delay, no doubt, the House would relax its rules for that particular occasion, and allow the subject to be brought forward. I am, therefore, of opinion that, in substance, the change proposed by the hon. Gentleman would conduce to the more efficient despatch of business and to the more satisfactory discharge of one of our most important duties; and, further, that it would not operate injuriously by imposing undue restrictions on private Members. I think, however, that the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, as it is now worded, would not effect the object which he has in view. It states that "Motions, on going into Committee of Supply," are not to be permitted on the. particular night in each week which is 144 to be devoted to the consideration of the Estimates; but it would still be open to any hon. Gentleman to call attention to a subject without making a Motion, and thus might involve a debate just as long as any that might take place on a Motion. Again, I think the qualification "except by express permission of the House" would rather imply that such permission might be asked without any very pressing necessity, and it would be open to any hon. Member to make a statement while asking for that permission. I think it would be better to have a Resolution in some such words as these, "Whenever on Thursday Supply stands the first Order of the Day the Speaker shall leave the chair without allowing any debate on that Order." As the hon. Gentleman has observed, this question has been a good deal considered by various Committees on Public Business. In 1854 the question was entertained by the Committee which sat in that year; but then there were only two days in each week on which the business of Supply could come on. Since then there has been the change to which I have alluded; and if Thursday was now named for the purpose suggested by the hon. Member, the adoption of the principle of his Motion would be free from the objection, which at that time existed, of its unduly limiting the power of hon. Members to call attention to matters of grievance on the Motion for going into Supply. There was, in the Committee also, the suggestion that a rule of "progress" should be adopted; and that was carefully considered. But it may be very desirable that on the first night on which the Army Estimates or those of the Navy are brought forward, the representatives of either of these branches should have an opportunity of making an explanatory statement without the intervention of a preliminary notice. Consequently, it was felt that, if the rule of "progress" was strictly to apply, any hon. Gentleman who might waive his privilege on the first night would "be debarred from making Motions on any subsequent occasion when those Estimates were brought forward. The rule now proposed would not be open to that objection, for it would always be competent to the House to fix Supply for Monday or any other day on which the rule would not apply. I would observe that while I concurred in the principle of this Motion last Session, I thought it would be very inexpedient to ask the House 145 in the month of August, in a thin House, to agree to a Resolution which, no doubt, would make a very material change in the business of the House. As this change is now proposed at an early period of the Session, I have no hesitation in expressing my opinion in its favour; but I am bound to say that I think a change of this kind could only be adopted with the general concurrence of the House. It is a matter in which we are all equally interested, and if it even met the opposition of a large minority, I think it should not be adopted. If, however, it is the general opinion of the House that this rule ought to be made, I shall be very happy to give notice for a future evening of a Resolution framed in terms similar to those which I have suggested; but I shall be guided very much by the expression of an opinion on the part of the House.
§ MR. PAULL
said, that on a former occasion, he ventured to propose that with one class of the Estimates the rule of "progress" should apply; but he confessed that he had been converted by the arguments brought forward in that House, and he now ventured to oppose the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department had expressed himself favourable to the Motion in a modified shape; but notwithstanding the high authority of the right hon. Baronet he could not but think that it would be very inexpedient. In the first place, it would be an interference with an extremely valuable privilege possessed by the Members of the House; and in the next, it would be a departure from the principle laid down in the antiquated expression that grievance should precede Supply, which for so long a period had been a constitutional maxim of Parliament. It was either good or not good that that principle should be retained as a constitutional maxim: but the proposal of the right hon. Baronet was that this principle should be broken through. ["No!"] It was clear that if they once agreed that on one night in each week the House should go into Committee of Supply without any Motion for the Speaker leaving the chair, it would not be long before the same rule would be extended to every Supply night. The constitutional maxim to which he had referred had been upheld by successive Committees of that House. The question had been carefully considered by four Committees—by the Committee of '37; by the Committee of 146 '48, over which the present Speaker presided; by the Committee of '54, presided over by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington); and by the Committee of '61, of which the late Sir James Graham was chairman, Each of those Committees had declined to make any recommendation which would involve a departure from the principle that grievance should precede Supply. The privilege which independent Members had of bringing forward questions of importance on the Motion for going into Supply was a most valuable one to the country, and he thought they ought to be very slow to part with it. It was quite true that under the present system Supply was often thrown hack to a very late hour: but the same was to be said of almost every class of business coming before that House. He hoped the House would not be prepared to adopt the proposition of the hon. Member for Brighton in any shape or way, notwithstanding any support which it might receive from the right hon. Baronet on the part of the Government.
MR. W. WI LLIAMS
said, that the hon. Gentleman objected to the Motion because he thought it was opposed to the constitutional principles of the House. Now, in his (Mr. Williams') opinion the House of Commons had no more important duty to perform than that of examining into the public expenditure, and seeing that the taxation of the country was properly applied. But this duty was at present anything but efficiently discharged, through the want of proper time to discuss the Votes in Supply. Every Supply night they saw ten, or fifteen, or twenty Motions on the paper which were entitled to take precedence of Supply. And what was the character of these Motions? Why, they interested no one except those who brought them forward? He had known instances of these Motions occupying the House until midnight, when some Member of the Government proposed to go into Committee of Supply on the Army Estimates. When objections were made to going into Supply at so late an hour, it was not unusual to be told that unless the House agreed to the number of men the Mutiny Bill could not be passed in time. Then, when the number of men had been agreed to, it was said, "What! can you object to pay them? "The House might almost as well pass the whole of the Army Estimates, amounting to £14,000,000 147 in one vote, as to agree to the number of men and their pay without discussion. He trusted that hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House would not object to some Motion of this kind. An increase of expenditure had been going on year after year, which was very much attributable to the want of fair time and opportunity of discussing the Estimates. The average expenditure between 1830 and 1840 was less by £20,000,000 than that of last year and the Estimates for this year. To come down to a later date, the expenditure in 1851, 1852, and 1853, when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer filled the same post in the Government of Lord Aberdeen, was upwards of £16,000,000 less than that of last year. The increase was thus seen to be very nearly double the amount of the income tax. It was time for the House of Commons to take this matter seriously in hand, and to adopt some means by which they might be able to confine the expenditure to the actual necessities of the public service. One great improvement would be to bring forward the Estimates at an earlier period of the Session and at an earlier hour of the evening. At the beginning of the Session the House was seldom engaged for the best part of six weeks in transacting any business of importance. If the Government were ready as soon as the House met to go on with the Estimates they could be discussed at once. If, too, they began to discuss the Estimates at five o'clock it was incredible what an amount of business could be got through. When, however, they were deferred until late hours, hon. Gentlemen came in very much disposed for discussion without having much knowledge of the various subjects, and, consequently, very little progress was made. He trusted that the House would sanction the proposition of his hon. Friend with the modification suggested by the Home Secretary.
§ MR. H. BAILLIE
said, the hon. Member for Lambeth seemed not to understand what the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had said. The right hon. Baronet had given a satisfactory answer to the proposition of the hon. Member for Brighton, namely, that if his Motion were agreed to in its present form, it would not ensure the purpose or object which he had in view. That he (Mr. Baillie) thought was a satisfactory answer, and, therefore, he would 148 not dwell any longer upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton. But the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) said he was not indisposed to bring forward some Motion of his own upon the subject. That he (Mr. Baillie) thought was a question which might be very fairly brought before the House. He trusted that the right hon. Baronet did not mean, in bringing forward his Motion, to preclude hon. Members in that House from submitting Motions in Committee of Supply having reference to Supply itself. It would, he thought, be a monstrous thing to deprive independent Members of the power of making observations on questions connected with Supply on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply. He could well understand the great inconvenience arising from extraneous Motions being brought forward, and he should be very willing, when the right hon. Banonet brought forward his Motion, to take that subject into his consideration. As he had said before, he trusted that no change would be made which would have the effect of preventing independent Members from bringing forward questions having reference to Supply itself.
§ MR. WALPOLE
—The hon. Member who brought forward this Motion apologized for so doing; but, when that Motion was supported by the approving cheers of so many hon. Gentlemen, I am quite sure that the apology, instead of being needed, ought rather to be offered by those who are opposed to the Motion. Entertaining, as I do, a very strong opinion on this subject, I wish the House to be a little on its guard before it adopts any Motion affecting our course of procedure which may diminish that power of check and control which the unofficial Members of this House ought to have over the Executive. That is a main reason why I think we ought to preserve that which is, not the written, but the unwritten and prescriptive law and usage of this House—namely, that on all occasions when the Government desires to have money the unofficial Members of this House shall be entitled to put any question to the Government, to submit any point that may require an answer, to suggest any grievance that may require a remedy, and to have such assurances from the Government in respect to these matters before it grants the money which may enable the Government to bring the Session to a close before those matters are attended to. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman who has 149 seconded this Motion, and also with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State (Sir George Grey) that you would insure by the proposition which the Secretary of State has submitted to us a greater certainty and a greater regularity in your proceedings if you went at once into Committee of Supply. That is the only advantage you will gain by the adoption of that course. But now let me ask what will you lose? If you once go into Committee of Supply, the first Estimates which will be laid before you are the Army and Navy Estimates — the Estimates for the great services of the State. You are asked to go into Committee of Supply without any previous discussion at all. Why, if you go into that Committee at five o'clock without discussion, I would venture to say that the great Votes in those Estimates—the Votes upon which the Estimates entirely depend—namely, the number of men and the money to pay them, will be taken at once, and the only question left for consideration will be those relating to matters of mere detail. If that he so, where are you? You will have parted at the early part of the Session with that control over the public expenditure which Parliament ought never to give up, because, by your first Votes, you have given up the very substance of that upon which all the other Votes are taken. Now, the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Williams) and the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) have thought that they would get a greater control over expenditure by altering the form of procedure. [MR. WILLIAMS: Hear, hear!] Well, you would go into Committee of Supply at five o'clock. When is the time when Members of this House are most slack in attendance? Why, between seven and ten o'clock. Where then will be the control over expenditure? The hon. Member for Lambeth and the hon. Member for Brighton will argue that there will be the same control as before. The hon. Members will, no doubt, discuss particular Votes; but they cannot travel an inch beyond the particular Votes before the House, and the collateral questions connected with them cannot be debated or even entertained, because you refuse to allow attention to be called to them on going into Committee of Supply. If, therefore, the hon. Member for Lambeth and the hon. Member for Brighton are in earnest in their desire to control expenditure, I am confident that they can do it better by adhering to the old usages of 150 the House than by inducing the House to give up that usage which enables hon. Members to exercise a control over the Executive Government,—a control so useful, nay, so necessary, that the House of Commons ought never to abandon it. Is there nothingelse to consider in reference to this subject? For many years we have tried to improve the course of procedure, and we have improved it. Many suggestions have been made by hon. Members and by Speakers, and by you, Sir, as much as by any others, for you, Sir, in 1848, presided over a Committee which made recommendations considered with the greatest care and prudence. Now, the last two Committees which sat upon the forms of procedure in this House have had this particular question referred to them, and both have refused to recommend any such change as is now proposed. These Committees were composed of the most influential Members of the House, and the opinions of those Members have been confirmed by the House when the subject-matter was brought before it again. But what have those Committees done? Have they done nothing to diminish the opportunities which independent Members may have of bringing forward questions when and how they please? Why, they have shut up almost every avenue to the independent Members, and they will shut every one if you give up this power. Upon the Order of the Day for Committee of Supply being I read you may call the attention of the House to any subject to which you wish to have attention called. You had two days in the week when Members not connected with office might bring forward their Notices of Motion. One of those days is taken away. I do not complain of that; I believe it was right and expedient to do so. But you must bear in mind that already your opportunities of independent action have been taken away one after another, and now it is sought to take away that very opportunity which the House of Commons has retained, as its last fundamental privilege — namely, the right to say, "I will not grant one shilling of money until the people of this country have bad an opportunity of having all their grievances and all their complaints, if they have any, brought before the House." I do not wish to travel any further in that direction. I think that after the remarks of the Secretary of State (Sir George Grey) the hon. Member (Mr. White) will hardly persevere with his Motion. If so, I 151 trust I am not asking anything unreasonable when I express a hope that we shall not be asked to decide on the question this evening, and that we shall have time to consider the terms of the right hon. Baronet's proposal before we are asked to give a definite opinion upon it. Before I sit down, I cannot part with this subject without requesting hon. Gentlemen to read the Report made by the Committee of last year—a Report drawn up by a man whose grave authority, whose wise administration, whose thorough knowledge of the business of this House and of the Constitutional principles upon which we ought to act were unsurpassed—the voice of that man will be no more heard in this House. But his Report is there; and I know, from conversations with him, that if there was one point more than another upon which he was anxious, it was that you should not part without the gravest deliberation with any of those powers and authorities which the House, as an independent body, ought to exercise and keep for itself. Sir James Graham, unfortunately, is taken away from among us, the gap which his death has made in this House, is a gap which will not be easily filled up. [Continued cries of "Hear, Hear!" accompanied these sentences.] I feel that the whole House subscribes to this opinion, and I will, therefore, only once more entreat them to bear in mind that almost the last words that he may be considered to have addressed to this House are the words contained in that valuable Report, in every sentence of which I most heartily concur, and in the conclusions of which, by the observations I have made, I have endeavoured to give a feeble but most hearty support.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS:
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down put the point at issue before the House very fairly when he said that the question was whether the adoption of the rule proposed would or would not facilitate the free and ample discussion of the Estimates. Upon that issue I am perfectly willing that this question should be tried, and I submit my opinion to the House, that the adoption of this rule would facilitate that discussion. Some of those Gentlemen who take the greatest part in those discussions have expressed an opinion that our rules should be altered in the manner pointed out, and I concur with them in that opinion. I will shortly state my reasons. I think it must be admitted that it is important that when the House makes orders for the con- 152 duct of its business those orders should not be evaded. By the present rules of the House there is one night which is entirely given over to Notices of Motions of unofficial Members—namely, Tuesday; one day is entirely devoted to the orders of unofficial Members—namely, Wednesday; and there is another night which is practically a night for the notices of unofficial Members — namely, Friday; and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman took an inaccurate view of the nature of the change which was effected last Session, when he said Friday was taken away from independent Members. It was merely a change of form, that instead of the speeches being made upon the question of the adjournment till Monday, they should be made upon that of the Speaker leaving the chair upon going into Committee of Supply, the order for Supply being invariably placed first on the paper for Friday. Therefore, at present practically there are two notice nights and one of the order days which are exclusively at the disposal of unofficial Members—namely, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. It is a rule of the House that Government orders shall have precedence on Thursday and Monday. It clearly must be the intention of the House that Government orders should come first on those nights. Now, it is well known that, before Easter, the order which usually comes first is the order for going into Committee of Supply. But the rule, as it is, enables hon. Members to stand between the House and this Motion, and they convert in a great measure, these nights into notice nights. It is well known that a very considerable portion both of Monday and of Friday is occupied not by the discussion of Government orders but of notices of Motion. The consequence is that the rule of the House with respect to the precedence of orders on these two nights is absolutely frustrated, and nearly the four nights of the week— setting aside Wednesday—are devoted to notices of Motion. That is the practical effect produced on the business of the House before Easter, and the consequence is that the discussion of the Estimates is greatly delayed and impeded, and the legislative business is thrown to the end of the Session, and contracted within an inconvenient space of time. The proposal submitted to the House, I confess, seems to me to be reasonable. Its object, is that lion. Members should not be in a state of uncertainty on a Thursday, say, as to 153 when the Committee of Supply would come on, but should know when they come down to the House that at half-past four or five o'clock, when the orders were called on, the Committee of Supply would occupy the rest of the night. But if there should be a string of preliminary questions on the paper relating to the most heterogeneous and miscellaneous subjects, Members are then left in a state of uncertainty ns to how long those previous discussions would last, whether till eight o'clock or ten o'clock; so that when they come down they find the Motion for Supply has been carried in their absence, and great inconvenience is the result. What is proposed is, that on one of the two Government order nights in the week there should be a certainty, when the Committee of Supply stands first, that that subject would be discussed in inviolable precedence to all other questions. That does not seem an unreasonable order to make; nor could it lead, I think, to those very formidable consequences which my right hon. Friend opposite sketched out in a tone, I conceive, rather more exaggerated than the truth of the case warranted; because, undoubtedly, there would still remain the opportunity of making Motions on the other Supply night, and on the Supply order on Friday, or of giving notice for the Tuesday. As to the possibility of the Government hurrying forward the Estimates and closing the Session before the House had an opportunity of hearing the representation of important grievances, I think that is a contingency not very much to be dreaded. I cannot but think that, if the House looks at this matter dispassionately, it would see that this alteration in the proceedings would tend not to the convenience of the members of the Government, because they have to attend in their places every night, and it is a matter of indifference to them at what hour the Estimates come on; but it is of serious consequence to unofficial Members of Parliament, not constantly present in the House, to know for a certainty when the Estimates would come on. I think it would be found to conduce to the general convenience that there should be one night in the week on which hon. Members might be certain when they saw the order for a Committee of Supply in the paper, that that would be the business proceeded with.
§ MR. DISRAELI:
Sir, I did not clearly understand whether the right hon. Gen- 154 tleman supports or opposes the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton; and it would be inconvenient, in case the right hon. Gentleman is opposing the Motion, to be on this occasion discussing the merits of another Motion not at present before us. I think that we should first of all dispose of the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton; and to that I have no hesitation in saying that 1 am opposed. The Motion is, that immediately after the Estimates are duly before us a day should be fixed in each week when grievances may not be discussed before Supply is granted. Now, at the first blush there appears great inconvenience in such an arrangement, for in a certain state of public business Ministers might be much incommoded by being compelled to proceed with Committee of Supply. Supposing they had brought forward a great measure, ardently anticipated by their party, and wished to proceed with it continuously, they would then feel it extremely inconvenient to have a Committee of Supply interposed in their way. Suppose this was some great measure, on the pledge to pass which the Administration had been founded and supported after meetings held at celebrated localities without the walls of this House, and that the Government were called on in fulfilment of their pledges to carry out the intentions of such meetings, would the hon. Member for Brighton, in the midst of that enthusiasm, have a check put upon the Government by compelling them to go into Committee of Supply? I am sure the hon. Gentleman is of too ardent a temperament himself to submit to such control for a moment, and therefore he will see that managing affairs in Parliament is not such a mere methodical matter of business, when you have to deal with the passions and desires of a large body of men, as some persons might suppose. I take it for granted that the House will never agree to a regulation that immediately the Estimates are laid on the table, we should proceed once a week compulsorily with Supply. I, therefore, anticipate that the Motion will be negatived, and I think it would have been better if our discussion of the subject could finish with that result. But after the observations which have proceeded from the Treasury Bench it would not be courteous or convenient to let the matter rest there, because we have a counter project, not proposed, but recommended to our consideration by 155 the Government—namely, that one day in every week—not compulsorily but at the option of the Government—should be set apart for voting Supply, without grievance first considered. That is the proposition of the Government, and, no doubt, one much more practicable, at any rate, than that of the hon. Member for Brighton. But, as ray opinion, like the opinion of every other hon. Member, has been solicited by the Government, I think I am bound to say that there appear great objections to setting one day apart, even optionally, for voting Supply without the previous consideration of grievances, if necessary. I have not heard any answer from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State to the just observations of the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie); and I should like to know whether you mean to prevent Motions being brought forward on the night thus set apart for Supply which are relevant to Votes of Supply. [SIR GEORGE GREY: No amendments can be brought on in Supply on particular Votes.] I did not allude to particular Votes, but to the general subjects to which those Votes refer; and that is far more important. I do not think that the House would ever submit to a restriction of that kind. But the question is, what we should gain by the proposed change u the character of the proceedings of this House? As far as I can collect, the only argument in its favour is the convenience of certain Members interested in certain Votes, who, if they wish, under the present circumstances, to make use of the Parliamentary opportunity of canvassing and controlling these Supply Votes, must absolutely submit to the unheard-of and unjustifiable inconvenience of being hi their places in the House of Commons. If that be the only reason in favour of the suggested alteration, I confess that it does not weigh much with me, who am generally in my place. As to the arguments of the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Williams) they do not refer to the question before us. The hon. Gentleman says that, in consequence of the passing of the Reform Act thirty years ago the expenditure of the country has since greatly increased. Does he really think that if one day in the week is allotted to voting Supply he will have a better opportunity, than he might have enjoyed before, of reducing the expenditure? Surely, the hon. Gentleman is not a stranger in his place, and has not been scant of speech on the sub- 156 ject of expenditure for now about a quarter of a century. I do more justice to the abilities, exertions, and influence of the hon. Gentleman than he, with characteristic modesty, is prepared to award to himself, when I say that all his observations have been well considered both by the House and the country. But if, after twenty-five years of devoted exertions, he has not succeeded in reducing the expenditure a single stiver, that is evidence of the most satisfactory kind that the Administration of the country has been conducted in a more business-like and a purer manner than the hon. Gentleman has ever admitted. Then we are told, as an inducement to agree to the proposed change—which I concur with the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge in deeming to be one which, if the House ultimately decides on it, demands the greatest consideration before its adoption—that there is a great advantage in insuring regularity and certainty in our proceedings. Regularity and certainty are, no doubt, estimable qualities, but in a popular assembly there are qualities still greater and more valuable, and those qualities are patriotism and public spirit. The function of the House of Commons is not merely to transact public business, but to express and represent public opinion; and of those two functions the duty of representing public opinion is the most important, and that for which the House of Commons has most distinguished itself. You will never get a large body of men like this popular assembly, of which it is our pride to be members, who will conduct their business with the precision, regularity, and certainty of a public office; but you will find in an assembly constituted like this that deep sensibility to public feeling, that quickness in the appreciation of opinion, that determination to redress the grievances of the people, and that resolution to vindicate their rights and privileges, which can only be found in a numerous assembly constituted and elected as we are, and we must look to these higher duties and these more important qualities of the House of Commons when we consider the programme according to which the proceedings of the House are to be regulated. It is very possible that time may be now wasted; but however you change our rules and regulations, time must necessarily be still wasted in an assembly constituted as this is. Is it, let mo ask you, desirable that you should 157 forego the great objects which I have indicated? Are not the people out of doors satisfied that here is a large body of men of considerable eminence and weight in the country who are watching over their rights and interests? They are, and they care not one jot about the mode in which the forms of the House may facilitate the passing of some petty vote, in comparison with this greater consideration; and if you I tamper with and trench upon the privileges which the House of Commons has hitherto enjoyed with so much advantage to the nation, you may ultimately find that you have raised throughout the country a spirit of discontent and just dissatisfaction which you will have much cause to regret and much difficulty in allaying. What practical advantage, I ask you, do you think can flow from priggish, pedantic, and petty attempts to deal with the rules of the House? Is it sought to save time? Does the House of Commons sit too long? That, I think, is said. For my own part I do not think the Sessions of Parliament are too long. The business and wants of the country taken into account, this House ought, in my opinion, to sit at least six months in the year, and, as a general rule, we do not sit beyond that time. But then it is contended that the public business is hurried over in a manner that is inexpedient at the close of the Session. Now, for my own part, I believe that many measures are very wisely abandoned at that period of our deliberations, and that no detriment to the public interests in consequence ensues. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department seems. however, to attach considerable importance to the argument that legislative business is towards the end of the Session unduly hurried over, and, as a remedy for that state of things, he would be prepared to support a scheme in accordance with which on one day in the week no legislative business what ever should be transacted, and only votes in Supply would be taken. But be that as it may, I contend that a Session equal in length to the average Session of past years is not too long fairly to represent the wants and correspond to the necessities of the country, and if you could succeed in cutting down the duration of our sittings by a month—a result which some seemed to think might be brought about by changes in our rules which were talked of last year—my opinion is that in that proportion you would be likely to diminish your just influence in the country, and to 158 do injury to the public interests. When Parliament is not sitting, how many are there not who regret that such is the case? I do not wish now to enter into a discussion of the Education Minute, but I should like to have had this House sitting in flesh and blood at Westminster when the Revised Code was produced. That I think would have been a great advantage. I should have been glad also if the House had been sitting when the Government entered into the negotiations in the case of the Moorish treaty. In short, something happens almost every recess, often immediately after Parliament has been prorogued, which must give rise to a feeling of regret in the public mind that the House of Commons is not assembled. I hope, therefore, hon. Members will take a large view of the question before us, and that they will not permit their privileges to be tampered with by the report of a committee or the efforts of individuals to save time, however praiseworthy. Last year several changes were introduced into our forms of procedure. The whole subject was then deeply and elaborately examined, and I do not question the propriety of these changes. I would, however, under those circumstances, advise the House to rest on its oars until we see how far those changes answer their purpose. My right hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Walpole) has referred to the eminent man who presided over the committee from which they emanated; and I may, perhaps, be permitted to take this opportunity of saying that—though I sat opposite to him in this House—no one entertained a higher regard for him, or more sincere respect for his distinguished qualities than myself; and it is to me a source of great satisfaction that, having sat by his side during the progress of the labours of the committee, I was enabled to become acquainted with all that was passing in his mind on the subject with which we were dealing, and, however humbly, to assist him in framing those beneficial recommendations which have since been adopted. I cannot, at the same time, help feeling that we should be paying no very great tribute of respect to his eminent memory if, after the labours which he underwent in presiding over the committee, and within a few months only of his lamented loss, we not only refused to extend to these recommendations the courtesy of ordinary fair play, but the very first week after the reassembling of the I House, and before we had tried the virtue 159 of the changes which he proposed, lent our sanction to a scheme so crude that before the hon. Gentleman from whom it emanates was ten minutes on his legs he found his proposition to be so perfectly untenable that the Government felt themselves bound to argue against it, while expressing their readiness to bring forward some other plan to accomplish the same object, but in a manner somewhat less absurd. I feel confident, however, that the House will act with caution in this matter, and I entreat hon. Gentlemen on both sides of it to guard their precious privileges carefully, for if they are lost, depend upon it, the people out of doors will look upon us as having proved false to their interests.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON:
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has discussed the question whether the Sessions of Parliament are too long or too short. Now, the natural feeling, I apprehend, on his side of the House is that it is desirable our Parliamentary Sessions should be long, while, so far as we who sit on these benches are concerned, we should no doubt prefer that they should be very short. Nor is it at all surprising that hon. Gentlemen opposite should, after the recreations of the recess, return with such views as the right hon. Gentleman has indicated as to the transaction of the public business. It is during the Parliamentary Session that the Opposition have it most in their power to control and criticise the conduct of the Government, to influence the march of public affairs, and to take that prominent part in the direction of the business of the country which fairly belongs to their eminent talents and position. If, however, we are to form our judgments of men rather from their actions than their language, we might, looking back to what happened towards the close of past Sessions, feel justified in coming to the conclusion that we on this side of the House are more tenacious and persevering and less sensible of the inconveniences of a lengthened Session than those who sit opposite to us, inasmuch as it usually happens that towards the close of the Session the benches which they occupy become very thinly tenanted, while the faithful corps on this side remains staunchly at its post. Indeed, so much is this the case that it is frequently made a subject of reproach to the Government that they are pressing forward measures of importance at a late period of the Session when they are backed by a strong 160 phalanx of supporters connected with office, and when hon. Gentlemen, whose duty it is to oppose them, overcome by the fatigues of the Session have retired to more easy and agreeable quarters. I do not, however, intend to dilate on that topic now, and have merely risen to say that I think my hon. Friend who introduced the subject under discussion to our notice would do well—having satisfied his sense of duty by making his Motion—not to press it to a division.
With respect to the general question, I have no hesitation in admitting that I agree very much with what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the upper bench (Mr. Walpole) and the right hon Gentleman who has just spoken. I stated in the Committee of which mention has been made, and I also stated within these walls, that I thought one of the most important functions which the House of Commons had to discharge was to represent the opinions of the people of this country, and to constitute itself their organ in reference to anything which they considered to be a grievance, or which they deemed might call for improvement. I added that I regarded it as very inexpedient to gag, as it were, this House, and prevent it from fully expressing the views of the nation on matters as they arose, by the introduction of any regulations which we might imagine would be conducive to the despatch of public business. I was on those grounds opposed to the sweeping proposals which were last year made by some hon. Members, and which would have the effect of doing away altogether with those preliminary discussions which now take place on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply. I must at the same time observe that many hon. Gentlemen undoubtedly entertain the opinion that some restriction should be imposed on the latitude of discussion at present allowed on those occasions. They maintain that whereas until last Session there were only two days in the week on which the order for Supply might be Bet down on the paper, and preliminary discussions be brought on, there are now three, and that, therefore, one of these might be set aside without materially curtailing the opportunities for discussion which hon. Members have hitherto enjoyed. Now, that is a question which is fairly entitled to the consideration of the House, and my right hon. Friend near me has indicated an arrangement by which the object in view 161 might be accomplished without interfering with that freedom of preliminary discussion on Mondays and Fridays which several hon. Gentlemen have declared themselves to be so anxious to retain. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite has stated, that the House of Commons is not a mere department the sole duty of which is to pass Estimates and examine accounts. It has functions higher and much more important to the interests of the country to fulfil. It may, nevertheless, be a fair subject for consideration whether such an arrangement as that indicated by my right hon. Friend might not be adopted without injuriously restricting the opportunities which hon. Members now have of discussing various matters on the Motion for going into Supply, while I am at the same time prepared to admit that it would not be desirable to adopt any such arrangement without the general concurrence of the House. It would not, 1 think, be fitting that a bare majority should impose restrictions on the conduct of the business of the House which a large minority might regard as being inconsistent with constitutional principle, and what I would, therefore, suggest is, that hon. Members should turn the matter over in their minds, so that on a future occasion some proposition less liable to objection than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton might, with the consent of the House generally, be made and adopted.
in reply said, that the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire had treated his Motion with a degree of asperity and harshness which was perfectly unjustifiable. The right hon. Gentleman was one of those gifted beings who could make an ingenious speech upon any subject whatever, and who could prove—in reason's despiteThat right is wrong, and wrong is right.That white is black, and black is white.After what had been said on both sides he would not press his Motion to a division, and all he had to add was, that the pro position of the Government, whenever it might be brought forward, would receive his favourable consideration.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.