HC Deb 15 June 1866 vol 184 cc469-74

said, that during the present Session hon. Members have failed on many occasions to obtain sitting room in the House. This had arisen from the inadequacy of the House to contain the number of Gentlemen of which the House of Commons was composed. He had been informed that the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, giving a lecture to some of his admiring constituents, stated that, while the number of the Members was 658, the House contained adequate accommodation for only 300. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman might not have overstated the case, because he had heard it asserted that, taking the galleries into account, there was accommodation for 400. Perhaps there might be room in the body of the House for that number, so that more than one-third of the Members had not sitting room. Now, we were accustomed to hear of every Gentleman elected to that House taking "his seat in Parliament;" but this was perfect nonsense. An hon. Member might secure a seat if he was down at a quarter past three o'clock in the afternoon; but if there was anything important on the paper, it was impossible after the hour at which the Speaker took the Chair to get even standing room, where a Member could hear the proceedings which were going on, and apply his mind to the subject under discussion. This was a question which affected their utility as representatives. It was comparatively bootless to debate at great length how Members of that House were to be elected, if, when they were elected, they had not that accommodation without which they could not perform their duties with credit to themselves, or with justice to their constituents. What had occurred only on the previous day before the division on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, on Clause 4 of the Reform Bill? There was a crowd amounting to a mob about the door. The space without the Bar could not be kept clear, because there was not room within the Bar for the Members who wished to know what was going on; and there were a number of Members in the lobby who could not get in to hear the Question put. If we were told that in China a deliberative Assembly were sitting in a room of such contracted dimensions as compared with the size of the Assembly, that fully one-third of those entitled to take part in the deliberations could not get seats, we should say, "What fools the Chinese are!" But this was the state of things among us, who held ourselves up as models of men of common sense. During the present Session every seat in the House had been filled night after night; numbers of hon. Gentlemen bad been standing at the Bar, and others had not been able to get in at all. This ought not to be allowed to continue. It was injurious to the character of the debates, and to the due representation of the people. More than that, every time there was a full House scenes occurred which were altogether imcompatible with the dignity of that Assembly. The crowding, and pushing, and squeezing—the constant noise and interruption—was perfectly absurd to spectators. He wanted Her Majesty's Government to apply their minds to this matter, and to employ some able and experienced men to find out whether it was not possible to find a remedy, and, if it was, what the remedy should be. He should, perhaps, be met with the answer that, if made to accommodate the whole of the 658 Members, on ordinary occasions the House would be so large that hon. Members could not be heard. That allegation was simply absurd. There were in the metropolis rooms twice the size of the House of Commons, and yet speakers were heard perfectly well by the audiences in those rooms. Something, certainly, must be done, and he suggested that a considerable improvement might be effected by taking in the space behind the Speaker's Chair. He begged to ask the First Commissioner of Works, Whether Her Majesty's Government are prepared to cause an inquiry to be made with a view to affording adequate accommodation to Members in the House, and prevent thereby the serious inconvenience which Members have suffered, especially during this Session, for want of a sufficient number of seats? He hoped that hon. Members who took an interest in this question would express their opinions on it before the First Commissioner rose to reply to his Question; and in order to give them an opportunity of doing so, he now moved the adjournment of the House

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House do now adjourn."—(Sir George Bowyer.)


submitted that on an evening when Supply was put upon the paper with the view of giving hon. Members an opportunity of bringing matters of interest under the notice of the House, it was contrary to the custom and the general understanding which had prevailed in that House, for the hon. Baronet to occupy time by a subject which only recently had been discussed, and which, however interesting it might have been to the hon. Baronet, was not, he ventured to think, viewed in that light by the House generally. It was not desirable that the ordinary course of business on Supply nights should be interrupted by discussions raised on Motions for the adjournment of the House.


agreed with the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford) as to the inconveniences of the course adopted by the hon. Baronet the Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer); and, therefore, he should not follow the hon. Baronet into a discussion of the matter. The question of the number of seats which the House ought to contain was, he believed, carefully considered when the House was built; and for good reasons it was determined that it should not be larger than it was now. He thought the experience of the last eighteen years, during which discussions had been carried on there, had not led to the belief that the House ought to be enlarged, and he thought the enlargement would not conduce to the proper conduct of public businsss. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, had not had the matter under consideration; and he could not say that they were prepared to direct such an inquiry as the hon. Baronet suggested.


could not concur with the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works and the hon. Member for the City of London in the view which they took of this matter. It was rather a question of privilege. While the grass was growing the steed starved; while the Reform Bill and other important measures were being discussed those who were entitled to take part in the discussions had not room in the House. There was room enough that evening, but hon. Members knew very well that during a discussion which had already occupied several weeks, and was likely to occupy as many more, there had been very undignified struggles for every inch of room. He was aware that a favourite theory with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in office was that the accommodation in the House was ample. The occupants of the Treasury Bench, who contrived to appropriate to themselves a very extravagant amount of space, were very fond of confining independent Members to a very limited extent of accommodation. Was it a Constitutional doctrine that the number of the Members of the House of Commons being 658, there should only be accommodation for about 300 of them? Was that a part of the Constitution? Was that one of the ancient lines of the Constitution? If it was, he asked to have the rule applied impartially. The Speaker ought to sit on half a chair; the Sergeant-at-Arms ought to be similarly disposed of; and the Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench ought to sit two deep, one upon another. When he saw the Chancellor of the Ex-chequer sitting on the knees of the Under Secretary of War, and the Secretary to the Treasury balanced by the First Commissioner of Works, he would then say that all arrangements were convenient, and hon. Members had no reason to complain. The present arrangement was most unjust to independent Members, who, when they urged their complaints on the subject, were met with the covert insinuation that every one of sufficient importance got a seat, and that those Members who did not were such contemptible beings they ought to be glad to be allowed to stand where they could. ["Oh!"] But that was not a Constitutional doctrine. All Members were equal in that House. Whether they were good speakers or bad, whether they were important or unimportant, they all had as much right to seats in that House and to take part in the councils of the nation as if they were so many Chancellors of the Exchequer. Therefore, he did urge on Her Majesty's Government and on the First Commissioner of Works the propriety of giving this subject a rather more serious consideration than they had hitherto done. He undertook to say there was no other deliberative assembly in the world in such a disgraceful condition. They knew that in every other country, whether under a despotic or a republican rule, there was ample accommodation for those who were brought together to discuss public matters. That accommodation usually was carried to what would here be thought the outrageous extent of a desk as well as of a seat for each Member. It would be a long time before they could get such luxuries in the House of Commons; but it was disgraceful to us that the House of Commons was the only deliberative assembly to be found in the world in which the Members had to struggle for seats. He could not conclude without reminding right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, who now so pleasantly accommodated themselves, that they only held their positions by courtesy. If they continued to disregard the wants of others, they might find some evening an irruption from independent Members which would send them from their comfortable seats.


thought the noble Lord (Viscount Cranbourne) bad misapprehended what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and his right hon. Friend the Chief Commissioner of Works. Neither of those Gentlemen had in the slightest degree intimated that this was not a fit and proper subject for discussion. It had been discussed at considerable length one evening during the present Session, though he was not aware whether the noble Lord was present on that occasion. There could not be the slightest objection to the matter being again discussed, provided that the Member who brought the subject forward conformed to the rules of the House, and did not attempt by surprise to thrust aside other business of independent Members, and, as had happened in the present instance, by giving notice of a simple question, and then, having obtained possession of the House, for the purpose of putting that question, rising and saying that he would put himself in order by moving the adjournment of the House. That was a precedent so inconvenient with regard to the business of the House that it appeared to him that his right hon. Friend and his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Crawford) were quite justified in saying that they would be no parties to the discussion of the subject when it was brought forward in such a manner.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.