§ LORD ELCHO
I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer which he intends to take first on Thursday, the Committee on the Representation of the People Bill, or the Bill of which he has given notice for dealing with bribery and corruption at elections. I am induced to put this Question because I believe many hon. Gentlemen feel that unless there is ground for supposing some progress will be made with the Representation Bill on Thursday it would be hardly worth while to take the Committee on it the day before the adjournment for the holydays. I hope it will not be imagined that, individually, I wish to throw the slightest obstacle in the way of proceeding in Committee with the Representation Bill. So far from that, if I had been called upon to record my vote to-night, I should have given it for going into Committee, because I think it is extremely desirable that this Reform Question should be settled in the present Session. The arrangements of hon. Members during the holydays depend upon the time of the adjournment of the House. We should be all willing to give up our holydays, if it were necessary to do so, in order to settle the question; still, unless it is supposed that we could make bonâ fide progress on Thursday, I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman whether it might not be better to defer proceeding in Committee till after Easter. There is one other argument which I might use. A noble Friend of mine (Earl Grosvenor), for a reason in which every one sympathizes, is prevented from being present, and leave of absence for a week has been granted to him. I believe I am not wrong in saying that one of the most important, if not the most important Amendment to be proposed in Committee is that of my noble Friend, which stands early in the Paper. It would therefore, I think, meet his convenience, as well as that of the House generally, if the Committee were postponed till after the holydays.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It is the duty of those who regulate the business of the House to defer, as far as possible, to the general feeling of the House. I have no other wish in regulating our business than to take that course which, on the whole, I think will be most conducive to the public interest, and also most convenient to hon. 1320 Gentlemen. With respect to the questions alluded to, both are in a peculiar position. As regards the measure against bribery and corruption my personal engagement, I may say my personal honour, is pledged to its being brought forward before the holydays. It is a real, bonâ fide measure, prepared with great care, and I hope the House will receive it with favour, though the subject with which it deals requires considerable consideration. I might ask leave to introduce that Bill to-morrow; but, if I do so, of course I could not make a statement on it till the second reading. If I introduce it tomorrow and fix the second reading for Thursday, we could put down the Committee for the Representation of the People Bill for the same day, and the House could decide how they would proceed. As to whether the question of bribery and corruption at elections is one which requires and deserves their attention on Thursday it will be for them to decide. We must go into Committee on the Reform Bill on the second Government day the House meets after Easter. It would be inconvenient for us to go into a subject of very commanding interest on the first day. Moreover, I have promised that day to the Irish Members for the discussion of their Bill, and of course I must keep that promise. At present, I would suggest to the House that the best mode of procedure would be to place the second reading of the Bribery and Corruption Bill first on the Paper on Thursday, and if it meets with no opposition, the House may then go into Committee on the Representation of the People Bill. If, however, they should think it inconvenient to enter into the discussion of the latter Bill—and we should remember that the first clause is the most important—it will be in their power to express that opinion, and we should then fix it for consideration in Committee on the 2nd of May. The House will consider these matters; but at present I feel bound to move on Thursday the second reading of the Bribery and Corruption Bill, and I shall put that Bill upon the paper in accordance with the pledge which I have given to the House.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
I do not wish to interfere with the Order of Business proposed by the Government; but I certainly understood that the Committee on the Representation of the People Bill would be the first Order for Thursday. At present, however, the right hon. Gentleman pro- 1321 poses to put the second reading of the Bribery and Corruption Bill, which has not yet been brought in and read a first time, for the first Order on that day. I think that the Bribery and Corruption Bill can hardly pass without some discussion, and that the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman amounts practically to postponing the Representation of the People Bill until after Easter.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that to place the Bribery Bill first on the Paper would be to compel the House to pass the second reading of a measure of great importance without discussion, in order that they might proceed with the Reform Bill. That was a course which the House could never sanction; and therefore, practically, the right hon. Gentleman did not leave the matter in the hands of the House, but prevented them from proceeding with the Representation of the People Bill, for the Bribery Bill would occupy the whole of the evening. There was no Bill more likely to occupy time, because it was one of those subjects about which so many Members knew more than they did about most other subjects, and they generally found that the discussion became much more comprehensive as there was a large amount of personal knowledge and experience on the part of hon. Members. If the right hon. Gentleman really meant to give the House the option of deciding as to the course they would take, he would put the Reform Bill first, and then when they got into Committee they could decide whether to proceed or to report Progress at once in order to take the second reading of the Bribery Bill.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
said, there was a great deal of inconvenience in leaving a matter of so much importance in vagueness and uncertainty. He spoke feelingly on the subject, as he had a Motion on the paper which would be the first Amendment on the Reform Bill when they got into Committee, and he was naturally anxious therefore to know whether the Bill would come on on Thursday. He was perfectly ready to bring forward his Motion on that day, or later if the House thought fit; but it was extremely important that he should know on what day he would be called upon to bring it forward.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I agree with what has fallen 1322 from the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), and I will accordingly make the Committee on the Representation of the People Bill the first Order for Thursday, and then it will be for the House to decide on the course to be pursued. My only object is to consult the convenience of the House. I have been almost taunted by an hon. Baronet, a Member of this House, for having appeared to recede from an obligation which I accepted in its entirety and reality, and which I have laboured to fulfil. The measure I shall bring forward will at least prove the sincerity of my promise. I did not therefore feel myself perfectly free on the subject; but after what has occurred, I will put the Committee on the Representation of the People Bill first on the paper for Thursday, and the Bribery and Corruption Bill second. The House will then be in a position to determine which of them shall be first discussed.