HC Deb 11 August 1871 vol 208 cc1425-30

said, that he wished to call attention to a question of Privilege. He held in his hand a newspaper report of the proceedings of the House at its last sitting, which was not concluded until 25 minutes to 4 o'clock that morning.


said, that newspaper reports of their proceedings were not recognized.


said, it was rather a question of what was not reported. The paper contained what purported to be a report of their proceedings, but which report was calculated to mislead and deceive.


said, that he had already pointed out to the hon. Member that the House did not recognize newspaper reports of its proceedings.


said, he did not ask the House to recognize the report, but only to take notice of the fact stated.


said, it was irregular to refer to newspaper reports or comments in reference to their debates, and called upon the Clerk to proceed to read the Orders of the Day.


said, he would move that the House do adjourn, in order that he might complete the statement that he wished to make.

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


wished again to say that he had already pointed out the Rules of the House, and the hon. Member did not put himself in Order by moving the adjournment of the House.


said, he had moved the adjournment of the House upon the ground that they were really not competent after the late sitting that morning to go on with business. From about midnight up to the time stated, the House was engaged upon important business directly affecting the taxation of the country. There was a long debate on the renewal of turnpike trusts; there were no fewer than four divisions; and the results were that, not only were hon. Members so fatigued as to be unfit for business at this sitting, not only was the Speaker incapable of taking the Chair, so that additional labour was imposed upon the Chairman of Committees, but the outside public, who were under the impression that everything that transpired in the House was made public, were kept in entire ignorance of their proceedings for three or four hours, because the time to which their sitting was prolonged—to say nothing of the physical exhaustion of those who were professionally engaged in recording them—rendered it utterly impossible that reports could appear in the ordinary channels of information. It was not consistent with honesty and fairness, nor with their duty to their Colleagues who could not attend those prolonged sittings, to carry on legislation at such hours. Such a mode of proceeding brought the House into discredit with the country, and he wished to protest against it because there were still several other important Bills upon the Paper. He would withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrwn.


wished to say that there was an entirely different impression left upon his mind when he noticed the absence of the usual reports in the morning papers.


said, there was no question before the House. The hon. Member was entitled to ask a Question, but not to make a statement.


said, he would move the adjournment of the House in order that he might be enabled to make one or two observations. He saw with great satisfaction that there was no report of their proceedings after half-past 1 that morning in the newspapers, because he felt that the only way to prevent unreasonable late sittings was to bring home to the country the fact that they were disposing of Public Business when it was manifestly impossible that it could receive due attention, and also when it was impossible that the public could be informed of what they did, and because he thought the realization of those facts by the outside public would hasten and intensify the demand that this manner of conducting Public Business should cease. He was willing to admit the pressure of necessity at the present moment for working late; but he wished to appeal to Her Majesty's Ministers to endeavour next Session to so arrange Public Business that it might be unnecessary for them to deal with important public questions when from physical exhaustion it was impossible that they could do so satisfactorily. They really ought to come to some understanding to prevent a repetition of the course from which they were now suffering.

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


said, he readily accepted the appeal made to him by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves), though he held that the inconvenience of late sittings, which had been so frequently referred to, was somewhat exaggerated. The Government would be most happy to consider whether improved arrangements for the conduct of business could be adopted, though of course the question was really one for the House itself. The hon. Member must be aware that in discussing this question they were trenching upon grounds of controversy. Complaints had been made by the Government against some Members of the House, and by certain Members against the Government; and the main question for the public to consider was, whether the privileges of speech had not been improperly or unwarrantably used? He did not wish to beg that question at all; but he thought the general feeling would be that that was the real question, and that no improvement in their rules and regulations would enable this House to dispense either with a judicious management of Government business or with a discreet use of the rights and privileges of private Members, both of which, it was said, had been wanting this Session. He thought he had stated the real question fairly, and it must be decided, by the public, who had the whole case before them. Apart from that, he believed there were improvements that might be made in the Rules relating to the conduct of the business of the House, and, the subject-matter having been considered by a Committee, it would be the duty of the Government to see whether they could not move in the direction desired by the hon. Member for Liverpool.


said, he could not accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement of the question. Having been nearly 34 years in the House, he had never known Public Business conducted as it had been this Session; and in his (Sir John Pakington's) view, the real question was whether, consistently with the fair and proper conduct of Public Business, any Government was justified in commencing a Committee upon a most elaborate and difficult Public Bill on the 7th of July. It was on the 7th of July that the Government asked the House to go into Committee on the Secret Voting Bill, with its 57 clauses and 113 sub-sections. From that time to this they had been struggling on with that Bill. The Government had postponed the most important business for the purpose of going on with that struggle, although the right hon. Gentleman must have known perfectly well throughout the whole period that there was no prospect of the Bill passing into a law. It was the worst waste of public time that he had ever known in that House, and the Government were alone responsible for that waste.


said, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) had not expressed any opinion as to what was the cause of the present inconvenience of which the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) complained, although he stated that no doubt the country would form its own opinion on the subject. Judging from the experience of last year, when he (Mr. Forster) had charge of a rather complicated Bill which was introduced at a late period, and which was passed, with little difficulty, after a full discussion, he had been sanguine that the same result would follow the introduction of the Ballot Bill.


said, last year's experience showed that when a measure honest in its intentions, wide in its scope, and which had ripened in men's thoughts from year to year, was brought in to meet a patent and serious evil, hon. Gentlemen were willing to sink all minor differences and pass the Bill. This year, however, when there was a glut of business, Bills that affected the limbs, lives, and happiness of a large portion of their countrymen had been postponed to meet the crotchets of a few philosophers and the ambition of the Treasury bench, which, when it saw Army, ships, and everything else going to the bottom together, tried to unite a disorganized party by bringing in a measure which could not be urgently required at a time when a dissolution of Parliament was not imminent.


said, as one of those Members who had taken no part in the discussion of the Ballot Bill, he desired to enter his protest against the way in which legislation was being conducted at the fag-end of the Session. It was impossible for hon. Members to discharge their duty to their constituents when important measures were brought forward between 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning. Such a course was unsatisfactory to the country and discreditable to the House of Commons.


said, he wished to point out that now, when there was an opportunity of transacting some real business, the House was diverted from it by a jangle as to what had occurred at an early period of the Session.


said, that last night a Bill in which the Scotch Members took considerable interest—the Endowed Hospitals Bill—was put down for a second reading. He was requested to place himself in communication with the learned Lord who had charge of it (the Lord Advocate), and accordingly, after the main business of the evening had been finished, but before the Turnpike Acts Continuance Bill came on, he spoke to the learned Lord, who informed him that he intended to bring on the Bill that morning, however late the hour might be. Consequently, the Members interested in the Bill waited patiently in their places till about a quarter to 4 A.M., when in the absence of the learned Lord somebody moved that the Order for the second reading be discharged.


said, there was no prospect of the Scotch Bill in question passing this Session unless the second reading were agreed to last night; and the Turnpike Acts Continuance Bill having occupied much more time than was anticipated, the Endowed Hospitals Bill was withdrawn.


said, that when he made inquiries of the Secretary of State for the Home Department respecting the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman said he thought it would be carried during the small hours of the morning. It was not a mere continuance Bill, and he had to complain of the unfairness of the Secretary of State in not acting in accordance with the provisions of the existing statute.


said, that he could not honestly approve the present scheme, and he had therefore applied for enlarged power.


said, he thought it was not fair to the House or the public that a measure of such importance as the Turnpike Acts Continuance Bill should be discussed during the small hours of the morning. It occupied two hours, and four divisions were taken upon it, and yet the newspapers merely announced that the Bill passed through Committee. The Government were to blame for over-crowding the Notice Paper, and putting down Orders day after day when there was no possibility of their coming on. In his opinion, the Government ought to inform independent Members what measures would be proceeded with.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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