HC Deb 28 May 1866 vol 183 cc1312-9

said, he desired to ask a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, disclaiming any personal feeling in the matter, declared that he called attention to the subject solely in the interest of private Members and with a view to procure a better regulation of the business of the House. On the Friday night before the adjournment for the Whitsuntide holidays, as hon. Gentlemen were aware, the House was counted out; and on last Friday no House at all was made. On that account he charged the Government with a public breach of faith with regard to the House and also with a private breach of faith with respect to himself. As to the public breach of faith he wished to know, Whether, when, some years ago, the private Members gave up Thursday night for the sake of public business, it was not expressly understood that the Government should regard Friday as one of their own nights so far as making a House and keeping a House, in order that private Members might bring forward matters with which they concerned themselves? and as to himself, he would remind the House that he had an important notice on the paper for the Tuesday after the first night of the Reform debate; but that, desiring to comply with the wishes of the Government and to mark his respect for the House, he waived his right when the Chancellor of the Exchequer appealed to him to do so, the right hon. Gentleman at the same time stating that his Motion was one of great importance, and that if he should not obtain an opportunity by the ballot of bringing it on, the Government would give him a night. By the ballot he secured the third or fourth place on the paper for Friday night, while those who came before him were not likely to act upon their Notices. He, however, went to the Secretary to the Treasury and said that, as it might be more convenient to the Government not to have a House, considering it was the Oaks day, and also the night before the recess, he would give up the Motion for that night and ballot again, without asking the Government for a day. The hon. Gentleman, however, said the Government had most important business for that night, and he promised to keep the House for him. In the result the Motions of his predecessors took a longer time than he expected, and he was not able to bring his forward earlier than nine o'clock. Soon afterwards the House was counted out, although he had induced all the hon. Gentlemen interested in his question to remain in town; and it was currently reported that the count-out was brought about at the instigation of the hon. Gentleman himself. He did not believe it; but he did say that after what had passed the Government were bound to keep a House. It might be said that the fact of a count-out having occurred on the question showed that the matter was not of much public interest; but it was acknowledged that a count-out would occur between eight and ten o'clock on any question, however important, if the Government chose to procure such a result. He did not think it right that hon. Gentlemen should be treated as he had been, considering how often the right hon. Gentleman appealed to them to postpone their Motions in order that Government business might be proceeded with; and he trusted that what had befallen him would be a warning to private Members not to give way in future. He begged to state that he should put his Motion on the paper for to-morrow night, and would not give way for Government business. He wished to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was to be the order of business on Friday nights in future? That he might be, in order, he moved that the House adjourn.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Baillie Cochrane.)


I rise to offer my hon. Friend the explanation which he desires, so far as it depends upon me; and, first of all, I will refer to that case which has occupied the less prominent portion of his statement, but which was treated as part of the question which he wished to submit to the House—I mean the unfortunate failure on Friday afternoon last to make a House. With respect to that, I think the general propositions of my hon. Friend are so just that it is quite right I should state to the House exactly what occurred, so far as it is within the knowledge of myself or any Member of the Government. The hon. Member is, I think, correct in the general proposition he lays down with regard to Friday nights. It is the usual endeavour of the Government both to make a House, and, so far as they can, to keep a House on Friday evening. Now, what happened on last Friday evening was this, and I am in hopes it will be thought the Government are not to blame—whether any one else is to blame, I am not here to say, and I really do not know. But, Sir, those whose duty it is, on the part of the Government, to look to the making of a House have found during the present Session of Parliament—probably in part owing to its being a new Parliament, and in part owing to the great amount of interesting and important business that has been before the House—there was no difficulty whatever in making a House. In general there has been a superabundance of Members ready to make a House; and I know that once or twice, when I had a doubt about it in my own mind, I have said to the Secretary of the Treasury—"Is there any likelihood that there may be no House on such a day?" and he said, "Oh, no; the attendance of Members at the usual hour of prayers is so great that the House is certain to be made." However, on Thursday last, that being the day which immediately followed the vacation, my hon. Friend the Secretary for the Treasury, in the exercise of a forethought which it was his duty to exercise, bethought him that possibly there might be a difficulty in making a House on that day; and conse- quently he sent to Members of the Government desiring them to quit their offices and to come down here for the purpose of making a House—an operation which, it must be observed, is not desirable for the public service to repeat too often. However, on that Thursday the operation was performed, and my hon. Friend with many other Members of the Government were here, and he found again on that Thursday, which he regarded as the critical day—the day immediately succeeding the recess—he found here, I do not know precisely what number of Members, but a number far in excess of what was necessary to make a House. That being so my hon. Friend inferred—and it appears to me it was perfectly natural and legitimate that he should infer—that if on the day after the recess the number of independent Members appearing here was far beyond what was ample for making a House he need not use any special measures on Friday. Accordingly he did not take any measure to procure the attendance of Members of the Government on Friday, and he took precisely the course which he would have done if it had been a Monday or a Thursday. To the surprise of us all we heard that when you, Sir, had counted up to the number of thirty-six, you were unable to make any further progress. I do not know whether it is truly alleged or not, but the rumour did reach us that there were divers Members of Parliament in the immediate vicinity of those doors who did not think fit to supply the additional three, which was the number actually wanting for the purpose. That is the account of the case as regards last Friday; and I think if Gentlemen will bear in mind that it would be ridiculous and absurd on the part of my hon. Friend to be continually calling on gentlemen who are engaged in their offices on public business to come down here at a quarter to four o'clock to make a House, they will be inclined to think that no blame attaches to the Government for the occurrence of an incident which they, it so happens, regret extremely. With regard to the case of my hon. Friend on the Friday night preceding the recess, I will answer him without the slightest reference to the threat which he has uttered that he will avenge himself by putting down his Motion for to-morrow (Tuesday) night, and then making it. But I must say that such is the opinion I entertain of the placability of my hon. Friend of the elevation of his tone and character, and his entire incapacity to indulge any vindictive feeling, that I am quite certain, if a case of public advantage should arise, he will show us that that threat is really not intended to be put into execution. I admit every word of what he has said with regard to his own claim. It is perfectly true that he withdrew his Motion originally in order to allow the public business to go forward. It is also perfectly true that I asked him to ballot and take his chance, and that I likewise did admit that his Motion was one fit to be discussed, and if need arose, and he found a difficulty in bringing it forward, I should be happy to give him the best assistance in my power. I need not say that it is with very deep regret indeed that I am obliged to admit that the House was counted out on that Friday evening. But he will admit that the evening which immediately precedes the vacation is an evening on which there is a difficulty in gathering Members together; and, I am quite sure, if my hon. Friend recollects the state of the House at the time when it was counted out, he will remember that this (the Treasury) Bench was rather respectably occupied—that certainly not less than three or four Cabinet Ministers were in the House, and that an overwhelming proportion of the Members who were actually present in the House were Members sitting on this side of the House. My hon. Friend will also bear in mind that a Motion was expected to come on upon that evening of rather a peculiar nature, and I grant I entertained a doubt in my own mind that a considerable number of Members absented themselves with a view, I will not say of defeating the discussion upon that Motion, but with a general sense that it would not come on. The obligation of the Government to keep a House on Friday evenings was admitted by the late Lord Palmerston; but, at the same time, Lord Palmerston said that the Government must look for assistance to the independent Members of the House. Whether that assistance was given on the occasion in question is not for me to say, though I think the number of independent Members connected with the Opposition was so small that they might have been almost counted upon the fingers of one hand at the time the House was counted out. I can only say that for the future the Government will use their efforts to prevent the recurrence of that proceeding. As regards the Motion itself which the hon. Member proposes to make, I think it is far too important a one to be made the subject of an Amendment, because it raises the entire question of metropolitan government. It is not merely a question for the reconstruction of the Board of Works, but it is a much larger one; and therefore it will be the duty of the Government to afford the hon. Gentleman as much assistance as possible in bringing it before the House.


desired to say one word upon the subject, as he was of opinion that at least a little laches attached to the Government in consequence of there having been no House on Friday evening. He and another Member were in the tea-room at the time, and would have been most happy to assist in making a House, but they received no intimation that the House was not likely to be made. That surely could not have occurred if any energetic exertions had been made to prevent the occurrence which happened. But he wished to draw attention to another matter touching the business of the evening. The first Order of the Day was the Motion to go into Committee on the Representation of the People Bill. Upon that the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) proposed to move an Amendment, or rather two Amendments—the second of which was an Instruction to the Committee to make the Franchise and Re-distribution Bills one. Then the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Captain Hayter) had given notice of an Amendment to that Instruction, and some doubt existed as to whether the Orders of the House would permit the hon. and gallant Member's Motion to be made at the time he proposed to make it, He therefore suggested that the House should be made acquainted with the Order of business for the evening, and upon what Motion it was proposed to take the sense of the House.


The course of procedure this evening will, I think, be this: We assume, that after the Order of the Day for the Committee on the Representation of the People Bill has been read, the right, hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) will move the Instruction of which he has given notice; and as far as the Government is concerned, they will at once accede to that Motion without any further discussion. We think the subject of referring these Bills to the same Committee has been abundantly, though inci- dentally, debated on former occasions, and therefore it is that we shall agree to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. Then, according to the Order on the paper, the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Captain Hayter) stands next, with an Amendment to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie). This Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I believe, by the forms of the House, cannot be moved as an Amendment to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie), and therefore it will fall to the bottom of the list of Amendments in Committee, and will not be debated tonight. But that Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman raises a very important question. It goes to the root of the whole matter, both as regards the measure before the House and as regards the Government who are responsible for that measure. Consequently, I should hope that there will be a general disposition to concur with the Government in the opinion that that Motion is one which some effort should he made to bring at once under the judgment and decision of the House. Then comes next the Motion of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Kinglake), that it is not expedient to go into Committee on the Franchise Bill until the House has before it, the expected Bill for the He-distribution of Seats. I presume that that Motion has lapsed by force of the existing circumstances. [Mr. KINGLAKE: Certainly.] We then come to the Motion of the hon. Member for Rochester(Mr. Wykeham Martin)— That it would be neither just nor expedient Unit any class of persons who are entitled to vote at the election of Members to serve in Parliament, against whom no corrupt practices have been proved, should be deprived of their franchise by the present Bill —which I presume I may say relates to persons employed in the dockyards. That Motion is of a somewhat extensive character, and I think the whole subject could be much better discussed when in Committee on the Bill. Perhaps if a prospective effect were given to the clause, it would be deprived of severity; but I think my hon. Friend would hardly expect the House to deal with a proposition which, in point of fact, would prevent the House from discussing Motions such as that of which notice was given by him the other night with respect to the freeman's franchise in connection with the Irish Reform measures. The Government, therefore, without pledging themselves to absolutely adhere to the clause in the Bill on this subject, in the precise terms in which it at present stands, should the House think that it is too severe, would appeal to the hon. Gentleman not to make his Motion at present, but allow it to stand over until the Committee, when the whole subject can be discussed upon its merits. The proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Captain Hayter) is of a very different character, and I trust that no Motion of a secondary character will be moved, so as to intercept the judgment of the House being taken on that Motion at the earliest possible convenience. I therefore make an appeal to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wykeham Martin) to allow his precedence on the paper to be waived, in order that the House may have the opportunity of coming to the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Hayter). The others are not Motions which will interpose any impediment to the discussion at which it is our wish to arrive without any delay whatever.


said, that nothing could be further from his desire than to oppose any proposal of his to the united wish of the House. His position, however, was somewhat peculiar; he gave notice of his Motion some weeks ago in consequence of a public pledge to use his utmost efforts to accomplish the object he had in view, without any wish to impede the advance of public business. He should in Committee move an Amendment to Clause 16, according to notice, and he might state that he had received many assurances from both sides of the House that he should have fair play. He would, therefore, in deference to the united wishes of the House, give way to the hon. and gallant Member for Wells, and he hoped, when he should have the opportunity of moving his Amendment, hon. Gentlemen opposite would recollect the concession he had made.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.