HC Deb 01 July 1867 vol 188 cc774-82

I rise to move the Resolutions of which I have given notice relative to the Morning Sittings, The House will observe, from the Resolutions I have placed on the table, that I request the continuance of the privilege, if I may call it so, but I have proposed it in a limited and modified form. I have not asked the House absolutely to agree that the Tuesday and Friday Sittings shall commence at two o'clock and continue till seven, but I assume the possibility of such an event taking place, and I ask the House to agree to the conditions on which that privilege shall be exercised. I hope the House will agree to the Resolutions.

Moved, "That the Standing Orders (19th July, 1854 and 21st July, 1856), relative to the Morning Sittings be read and further suspended."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)

Standing Orders [19th July 1854 and 21st July 1856] relative to Morning Sittings read, and further suspended.


said, that some more effectual steps ought to be taken to prevent attempts being made to count out the House when Irish questions were about to be discussed. He thought the Government ought to take some steps to secure a full House at the re-assembling at nine o'clock.


said, he was sure he only gave expression to the general feeling of the House when he said he was unwilling that the present opportunity should be lost for securing the privileges of private Members against a contingency which was always liable to occur when the House met at nine o'clock after a morning sitting. In referring to what had taken place the other evening, he had no intention whatever of offering any criticism on the conduct of any hon. Gentleman. He merely wished to mention the fact that it was in the power of any hon. Member to avail himself of the earliest moment after the meeting of the House for procuring a count out. On the very first night of the new arrangement the Speaker had not actually taken his seat in the chair when an hon. Member moved that the House be counted. Similar attempts had since been made, and notably on Tuesday last, when the attempt would have been successful had it not been that accidentally he (Mr. Crawford) saw the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for the. Treasury, who had completed his eliminating process, looking from behind the Speaker's chair. He (Mr. Crawford) thereupon called attention to the fact, and the right hon. Gentleman in the chair having included him in the number which he had already counted, the House was made. Owing to this fortunate circumstance several important Bills in the hands of private Members were advanced a stage. Private Members, who frequently had Motions to make on subjects in which their constituents were interested, ought to be fairly protected against such occurrences, an object which he thought might be accomplished by a simple expedient. With that view, he begged to propose the following addition to the third Resolution submitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer:— And at the Evening Sitting, if notice be taken or if it appear on a division that before half-past nine o'clock forty Members are not present, the House shall not thereupon be adjourned, but the business shall be suspended for ten minutes, when Mr. Speaker shall again count the House.

Motion agreed to.

Then on the Motion of the CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER it was— Resolved, That, unless the House shall otherwise order, whenever the House shall meet at Two o'clock, during the present month, the House will proceed with Private Business, Petitions, Motions for unopposed Returns, and leave of absence to Members, giving Notices of Motions, Questions to Ministers, and such Orders of the Day as shall have been appointed for the Morning Sitting. Resolved, That on such days, if the business be not sooner disposed of, the House will suspend its sitting at Seven o'clock; and at ten minutes before Seven o'clock, unless the House shall otherwise order, Mr. Speaker shall adjourn the Debate on any business then under discussion, or the Chairman shall report Progress, as the case may be, and no opposed business shall then be proceeded with.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That when such business has not been disposed of at Seven o'clock, unless the House shall otherwise order, Mr. Speaker (or the Chairman, in case the House shall be in Committee,) do leave the Chair, and the House will resume its sitting at Nine o'clock, when the Orders of the Day not disposed of at the Morning Sitting, and any Motion which was under discussion at Ten minutes to seven o'clock, shall be set down in the Order Book after the other Orders of the Day.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the Question, to add the words "and at the Evening Sitting, if notice be taken, or if it appear upon a division, before half past Nine o'clock, that Forty Members are not present, the House shall not thereupon be adjourned, but the business shall be suspended for ten minutes, when Mr. Speaker shall again count the House."—(Mr. Crawford.)


said, he thought the hon. Member for London had most, appropriately interfered in order to secure that no further practical retrenchment on the time allotted to private Members should be made. He wished, however, to call the attention of the House to another circumstance. By the late arrangement the Government had a portion of every day in the week except Wednesday for the passing of the Reform Bill; but one effect of this arrangement was, that, when the House met at nine o'clock, it almost always led to a very late sitting; and not only were Members exhausted, not only was it very severe on the officials of the House, but there was this circumstance connected with these late sittings, that it was physically impossible that the public could be regularly informed of the proceedings of the House at a very late hour with the same accuracy, as they were informed of them, during the earlier part of the sitting. If there were no means by which that information could reach the public, nor would they be in the same position in which the House of Commons was placed in formerly, when the reporting of the debates had not reached its present perfection. The public formerly knew little of the progress of business in that House; now they supposed that they knew everything, but as to late debates they frequently knew nothing. It was not fair to the Members of that House, that it should not be understood that although the public were informed of the proceedings of that House up to half past twelve o'clock with extraordinary accuracy, yet that after that hour, whatever business was taken must be proceeded with without the public being informed of what was said by hon. Members. He thought that the late Mr. Brotherton did a good service to the House and the country when he insisted practically, that no contested business should be taken after twelve o'clock. If they were to have both Morning and Evening Sittings during the dog days, and sit late also, he hoped that some such rule as that would be adopted.


I rise for the purpose of supporting the proposition of the hon. Member for the City of London; and at the same time I wish to say that I think the complaint made by the hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon is a very reasonable and well-founded complaint. Now, I put it to English Members of the House in this way. The Irish Members, if they were all here, would be 105 in number. Now, it is too hard to expect that they, on a question of Irish business should make a House, or, in other words, that forty out of 105 Members should be present. The other night the subject of the delay in introducing the Irish Reform Bill was brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth (Mr. Chichester Fortescue). That was a very proper subject for the right hon. Gentleman to bring-before the House; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose conduct was called in question, will, I am sure, be the last to complain of the discussion which took place, or of the reasonableness of that discussion. Well, I think I was almost the only English Member in the House when it met at nine o'clock — [Lord HOTHAM: No, no!]—I say "almost."—the noble Lord, I believe, was in his place; but I was almost the only one, and I think the only one on this side of the House. Now, we must bear in mind that these 105 gentlemen come here to join a body of 550. They have their own questions just as important to them, and in fact, as important to us, really, as any other questions that come before the House; and I think it was not a very handsome proceeding on the part of the hon. Member for Colchester, seeing that an Irish question was about to be brought on, and that Irish Members were almost exclusively in the House, immediately on the Speaker taking the chair, to move that the House be counted. I should be very sorry indeed if anything of the kind should take place again. I am quite sure it would be calculated to create an unpleasant feeling in the minds of Irish Members and in the minds of the Irish people ii they should come to know how these proceedings are managed in the House. The Amendment which the hon. Member for the City of London has moved appears likely to prevent the recurrence of similar events in the course of the deliberations of the House, and I should be very glad indeed to see it adopted. The House of Commons is, after all, a very clumsy instrument of legislation, the matters which come before us are far more numerous every session than wt can possibly get through, and I think it is a grievous injustice to the House, and a wrong to the country, that any Member should interpose any unnecessary obstacle in the way of its proceedings.


said he was of opinion that the only effect of adopting the proposal of the hon. Member for the City of London would be that no hon. Member would come down to the House until half-past nine o'clock. He should like to know whether in the event of a division being taken between nine and half past nine o'clock, and its being found that there were not forty Members present, the division was to be taken again at the expiration of ten minutes.


said, that while he was ready to admit that a "count out" was sometimes attended with a great deal of annoyance to hon. Members who had business before the House in the progress of which they were interested, he doubted whether it would be well, because of a few isolated instances in which its progress was thus retarded, to alter a rule which was of long standing and which appeared on the whole to have answered extremely well. The suggestion of the hon. Member practically amounted to fixing the hour for the commencement of Evening Sittings at half-past nine o'clock; and it would, in his opi- nion, be better to adhere to the usual practice. It sometimes happened even on Government nights, that the House was counted out, so that the grievance did not apply solely to the cases of private Members.


said, he feared that the practical effect of the proposal of his hon. Friend (Mr. Crawford) would be simply to postpone the Evening Sitting for a quarter of an hour later. As a private Member he must, however, say that while the proposal of the Chancellor operated very advantageously in a special emergency, such as that of the discussion of a Reform Bill, it was one which, so far as he could see, it would not be desirable to be permanently adopted by the House of Commons; for it no doubt interfered very materially with the position of independent Members. So far as the right hon. Gentleman himself was concerned, he never knew any leader of the House to display greater courtesy or consideration towards private Members, and he was always in his place when the House re-assembled; but he, at the same time, trusted that the present system of Morning Sittings would not be extended for a longer period than was absolutely necessary.


said, he was always very much opposed to the system of counting out. He did not indeed recollect that he had ever privately sanctioned any experiment of that kind. It was, in his opinion, a system which tended very much to break up the course of Parliamentary life, and even upon the most ordinary occasions some evil consequences in the progress of business had resulted from the exercise of the privilege. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just spoken did him, he believed, no more than justice when he said that he was always in his place at nine o'clock at the Evening Sittings, and he must say that the "counts out" which took place at a late hour of the night were not the result of the re-assembling of the House at nine, though he was by no means prepared to contend that the present arrangement was not one which, if persisted in, might interfere with the legitimate claims of private Members. That being so, it might not be desirable that the arrangement should be converted into a general rule, although, as the matter had been referred to, he must express his opinion that neither was the circumstance of the House sitting to a late hour of the night the result of its meeting after the Morning Sitting at nine o'clock. To show that he was justified in taking that view he might mention that he found from a Return which had been prepared by a friend of his for the years 1859 and 1860—in the former of which years a Reform Bill was introduced, and the latter of which was one of the hardest-working Sessions through which the House of Commons had perhaps ever sat—a greater number of Morning Sittings commencing at twelve o'clock being held in both years than in any other two which he could recollect—that although there were a great many counts out during the time there were later sittings in the evening than in any two years which he could name, the House sitting, on average, in 1860 until two o'clock in the morning, in several instances until a quarter to three, and on one occasion until a quarter to four. There was in that year a great deal of business; and he mentioned the circumstance to show that any similar inconveniences we now experience ought not to be attributed to the altered arrangements with reference to the sitting of the House. If, however, there was any infringement—and he did not deny that there was some—of the privileges of independent Members in the practice, he thought there would be a very fair objection to the habitual meeting of the House at nine o'clock for Evening Sittings. He would, at the same time, beg hon. Members to observe that he was asking them to adopt the system only for a limited period, and even under modified conditions, and the Government would certainly not avail themselves of it unless it met with the general if not the unanimous acceptance of the House. Under these circumstances, he hoped the House would hesitate before it interfered with a rule of such ancient date, and, as many might think, of such utility as that relating to "counts out." It often operated no doubt very inconveniently, and he himself very much objected to the practice; but still it was very desirable strictly to uphold a rule which indicated the necessity of a quorum being present in the House in the transaction of public business. Instead of doing away with such a rule he would prefer appealing to the good feeling of hon. Members in general to attend in their places. He knew that such appeals were not unusual from invidual Members to their friends when any business in which they were interested happened to be coming on, and it would be better, he thought, seeing that the present arrangement was only for a limited time, that it should be adopted as proposed by the Government than that a practice which had existed from time to time immemorial should be hastily terminated; and which, although many might object to it, was still connected with the maintenance of a quorum, without whose presence the public business could not be satisfactorily conducted.


said, he must remind hon. Gentlemen that the number of successful attempts at a "count out" in the present Session was singularly small, and he hoped his hon. Friend who had proposed the Amendment would take that circumstance into consideration. As to the arrangement suggested by the Government to facilitate the progress of business, whatever might be its character, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was entitled to the exclusive credit of originality which belonged to its author. As it now worked he might add it was open to the objection which the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had pointed out—that was to say, it tended to protract the Evening Sittings to an hour inconveniently late. The hon. Gentleman, however, in noticing the objections, referred also to the remedy which was to be found in reverting to that which, although, never a positive and formal rule of the House, became during the lifetime of the late Mr. Brotherton matter of general understanding—that after a certain hour contested business should not be proceeded with. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had spoken with great modesty of his own plan; but he was anxious that, while it was that evening discussed only as a temporary plan, the House should not hastily come to the conclusion that it was not to assume a more permanent shape, for to him it appeared a point well worthy of consideration whether if they were to have Morning Sittings, there could be any better arrangement arrived at, than that which at present prevailed. Every man was of course the best judge of his own convenience; but he, for one, was of opinion that it was impossible to fix upon two hours when the remission of the labours of the House was more useless than the two hours between four and six o'clock, whereas the hours between seven and nine were of great value, for a very essential purpose. The existing arrangement might, no doubt, interfere unduly with the privileges of private Mem- bers, and two points, entirely distinct, were to be borne in mind in dealing with the question—first, the best means of enabling the House to get through the greatest aggregate amount of business with the smallest general inconvenience, and secondly, the question as to how the time allotted for the purpose might most satisfactorily be divided between private Members and the Government. Some modification of the Government plan might be found expedient, with a view to secure more completely those two objects; but he, at all events, hoped that the existing arrangement would not be looked upon as one merely for the day, to be entirely abandoned when the immediate purposes for which it had been entered into had been served.


said, he should not press his Amendment unless he found it was the wish of the House that he should do so.

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and negatived.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That when such business has not been disposed of at Seven o'clock, unless the House shall otherwise order, Mr. Speaker (or the Chairman, in case the House shall be in Committee,) do leave the Chair, and the House will resume its sitting at Nine o'clock, when the Orders of the Day not disposed of at the Morning Sitting, and any Motion which was under discussion at Ten minutes to Seven o'clock, shall be set down in the Order Book after the other Orders of the Day.

Resolved, That whenever the House shall be in Committee at Seven o'clock, the Chairman do report Progress when the House resumes it sitting.—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)