§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
, in rising to take the direction of the Speaker on a point of Order, which was of great consequence as regarded the conduct of Public Business in that House, said, he would have asked the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman last night, had not the right hon. Gentleman unfortunately been unavoidably absent from his place. After the dinner hour yesterday Her Majesty's Government determined to proceed with the consideration of the Report of the Committee on Public Business. But the Resolutions which Her Majesty's Government decided on presenting to the House were not handed in at the Table until, he believed, after midnight, and when very few hon. Members were present. At an early hour that morning—after 2 o'clock—he (Mr. C. Bentinck) protested against that course, and urged upon Her Majesty's Government the unfairness of such a proceeding in the certainty of the absence of a great number of hon. Members of the House, and a large proportion of those who had attended to this question, and who had also sat on the Committee. He also pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister that he had given a distinct undertaking to himself (Mr. C. Bentinck) that ample notice of discussion on this question would be given. He ventured to submit that that undertaking had not been redeemed. That morning he had seen his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), who held what was ordinarily termed the office of Leader of the Opposition. His right hon. Friend stated that he left the House after 8 o'clock 142 last night, when no distinct decision had been come to by the Government as to what was to be done at the Morning Sitting that day; that he, too, was under the impression that ample notice would be given, and that he did not consider that even 24 hours' notice would be all that was required.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he rose to a point of Order. The hon. Gentleman opposite appeared to be opening up a question of good or bad faith, which, he submitted, was not a point of Order.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven will state the point of Order, I will be happy to give my opinion on it.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, if out of Order he would submit to the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, not to that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven has stated that he wished to raise a distinct question relating to the Orders of the House, but much of the matter introduced by the hon. Member is not of that nature.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, he would proceed at once to the point of Order. As far as his experience in that House had given him any means of forming a judgment, the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in that matter was a breach, if not of the Rules of the House, at least of the rules of etiquette. He apprehended that, according to the understanding that existed between the two sides of the House, no question could be set down for discussion unless there was sufficient time to enable Amendments to that question to be duly placed upon the Paper also. In that case the rule, whether it was a Rule of the House or a rule of etiquette, had not been observed by Her Majesty's Government, and he would cite as an argument in favour of the position for which he was contending, the almost analogous case of an Amendment upon the Report of a Bill as amended in Committee. Hon. Members know that it was a Rule of the House, for which the Standing Orders provided, that no material alterations could be proposed on the Report of a Bill, as amended in Committee, except upon notice of 24 hours, and for the very obvious reason that the House ought to know beforehand when any such Amendments 143 should be considered, and that it was only proper that there should be ample notice. He apprehended that the Resolutions stood in exactly the same category, because a Resolution would not be read twice or three times; there would be only one discussion, and one opportunity for the House to express an opinion upon it. Therefore, according to common sense, justice and precedent, he contended that when Resolutions of such importance, dealing with the rights and privileges of the House of Commons, were to be considered, there should be no attempt, as it were, by a side-wind, to go through them without full discussion. That was the point of Order which he desired to place before the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The question of the hon. Member for Whitehaven, as I understand, includes two points—first, the point of Order as to Notice; and, secondly, the question of what is, under the circumstances, sufficient Notice. The rule with regard to Notice is, that Notice must be given on the previous day, and this was done in the instance under discussion. With regard to the sufficiency of the Notice, that is a matter of opinion upon which a difference of judgment may exist, and which may vary with the nature of the case; but as far as the strict rules of order go there is nothing, in my opinion, in them to prevent the House from proceeding with the considerations of the Resolutions.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
The object of the Rules with regard to Notice is, that Members may have full intimation of what is to be proposed, and that those who wish to move Amendments may be able to give Notice to that effect. The Rule of the House as regards public Notices of Motion is that they should be given at a quarter-past 4, when Members are generally in attendance, and there are means of knowing what is to be done. Generally, important Notices are given at that time; but no doubt it is the practice constantly that Notices of Motion are given privately to the Clerk at the Table after that hour, but that is for a subsequent day, and then they appear on the Paper as Notices of Motion given for a future day. I presume, however, that strictly they are supposed to be given at a quarter-past 4, and not at any time during the evening to the Clerk at the Table. I was myself 144 here until 2 o'clock this morning, and was not aware that airy Notice for discussing these Resolutions had been given. I was anxious myself to give Notice of one or two Amendments to the Resolutions. I understand that when Notice was given, my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Bentinck), who was more wide awake than I was, did ask a question of the Leader of the House as to what was to be done. It was not until this morning, after my breakfast hour, that I saw that some Notice of these Resolutions had been given. I would submit to the candour of the Leader of the House, whether, upon an important question on which hon. Members of this House feel strongly, it would not be proper that adequate Notice should be given, so that those hon. Members who have a desire to move Amendments should have a fair opportunity of doing so.
I wish to answer the appeal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie). In the first place, I do not know upon what authority my right hon. Friend has stated that the Rule of the House is, that Notice should be given at a quarter-past 4. I beg my right hon. Friend's pardon, there is no such Rule. At least, as at present advised, I am disposed to say no such Rule exists. The practice is to give Notice at that time, or in the course of the evening, for next day or a future day, so that hon. Gentlemen when they see the Paper in the morning may be aware what business is coming on in the course of the day. The history of the matter before the House is this—There has been a great pressure on the Government, and questions have been put to us to know when we could proceed with these Resolutions. We have hitherto been very reluctantly obliged to baulk the natural desire of many hon. Members to have these Resolutions proceeded with. What happened yesterday was as follows:—The business began with the consideration of the Army Bill, and in the course of the evening communications were made to us from the other side of the House and the opponents of the Bill generally, to the effect that it would be extremely agreeable to them if the Government would consent to take the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) on Monday. Under the circumstances, there 145 being every expectation that the Army Bill would be disposed of last night, it naturally occurred that, having acceded to that wish, we should take Supply this morning; but we took into account the fact that the Government had long ago considered the Resolutions of the Committee on Public Business, and that we had actually made up our minds as to the proposals which we should submit to the House on the subject, although our Resolutions were not actually drawn up. Now, of the three Resolutions which we intended to lay before the House, two were not in the slightest degree connected with our own interests. One of them is intimately connected with the concurrences of independent Members and the other with the propriety of certain proceedings in this House. The latter is that which relates to the power which every hon. Member possesses to call summarily and peremptorily for the exclusion of strangers from the House. Now, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) has announced his intention positively to introduce a Bill for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act on Tuesday next, and under the circumstances it appeared to us not in our own interest, but in the interest of the House itself, that this question with regard to the exclusion of strangers should be disposed of at a Morning Sitting before that day. That is the reason why we determined to propose the Resolution to which I am referring. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven was, I think, perfectly satisfied when I made a somewhat similar statement at half-past 2 this morning. [Mr. CAVENDISH BENTINCK: No!] The other Resolution which we intended to propose sit this Sitting is that which relates to counting out when the House meets at 9 o'clock. During the last few weeks, although on those occasions the Government formed one-third, and sometimes one-half, of the Members present, yet the House has been counted out at an early period after 9 o'clock, because independent Members and the champions of the rights of independent Members have not thought fit to be in their places for the purpose of making a quorum. We have done what we could by personal attendance to secure that object, and we thought it was really important that we should settle the question without delay, and in a manner generally approved, by a proposal 146 to delay the count for half-an-hour after 9 o'clock, in the interests of independent Members, not our own, because, personally, it would frequently be more convenient to us to go home than to sit here.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
rose to Order. The right hon. Gentleman was doing that which he had no right to do; he was discussing the Resolutions under circumstances which would preclude any answer being given to his remarks.
I am not speaking to the point of Order, but in reply to an appeal from my right hon. Friend behind me, the Member for Kilmarnock, and if the House does not wish me to proceed I have no desire to do so. I have now stated the reasons which induced us to fix the consideration of those two Resolutions at a Morning Sitting to-day. As to the other Resolution which relates to Supply, I said last night that we should not proceed with it this morning, and my right hon. Friend near me, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will not proceed with it, but it will remain on the Paper. If the House should not deem it right to proceed with the other Resolutions also, we shall not press them. We simply took a course which we thought would be for the convenience of hon. Members generally.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he had had the honour of sitting on the Committee upstairs, and he was under the impression due Notice would be given as to the time when the Resolutions founded on their Report would be brought before the House. Hon. Members had, in his opinion, some right to complain that the 3rd of the Resolutions now proposed was not that of the Committee. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) had moved in the Committee that the hour before which a count-out could not be moved when the House met at 9 o'clock should be half-past; but the proposal of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), fixing the hour at a quarter-past 9, had been almost unanimously adopted. He thought it, therefore, extremely unfair of the Government to propose a different Resolution from that of the Committee, after only 10 or 12 hours' notice. If the Government thought the change which they suggested an improvement, they ought not, nevertheless, to take the House by surprise. As to the 1st Resolution, with 147 which it was proposed to proceed, he would merely say that it was, he believed, only by the casting vote of the Chairman that the Committee had determined there should be no debate on the question whether strangers should be ordered to withdraw. Under these circumstances, he hoped the discussion of the Resolutions would not be persisted in on the present occasion; but that another occasion would be taken advantage of, when they would receive that share of the attention of the House as to discussion, to which he (Mr. Collins) considered them fully entitled. He begged to move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Collins.)
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he thought the main point raised in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock had not been answered by the Prime Minister, He (Mr. B. Hope) referred to the impossibility of putting any Amendments on the Paper, owing to the shortness of Notice, and he maintained that—putting aside all technicalities, and looking at matters from a common-sense point of view and with fairness, as he trusted they would always be looked upon in an assembly of Gentlemen like the House of Commons, who would disdain to take any advantage of one another—ample Notice ought always be given to Members upon any important business which was to be brought forward, so as to enable them to put their Amendments down. The points raised in the Resolutions were, after all, of the utmost importance to themselves, intimately connected as they were with forms of procedure which had long existed. The right to insist on the exclusion of strangers might be a somewhat obsolete privilege; but it was a very ancient one, and ought not to be parted with without debate. Of the power of "counting-out" the House, it could not be said that it was obsolete, and it certainty was a question on which both sides of the House ought to have ample opportunity afforded them to express an opinion. He himself must strongly protest against the notion that those who were anxious to protect the rights of private Members had any interest in interfering with that privilege. The power of "counting out" he regarded 148 as a special privilege of private Members, and a Palladium of the proceedings of the House. It was a great protection against bores, and contributed to the saving- of the health and lives of Members, as every hon. Gentleman must feel who, like himself, had been in the House this week at 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning, as well as the whole of Wednesday. He did not mean to contend that it might not be desirable to put some restriction on the privilege of "counting out;" but the question was one which ought not, in his opinion, to be decided without mature consideration. The Resolution of the Government on the subject was not that of the Committee; so he trusted they would show their confidence in their own proposal by allowing it to run the gauntlet of free discussion.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
These proposals are of very small consequence, indeed, to the Government, although we look upon them as of consequence to the convenience of the House. It was, therefore, for that the Government went out of their way to bring them forward. The view of many hon. Gentlemen, however, seems to be that everybody ought to discuss them except the persons who are responsible for framing them. In that view I, for one, cannot acquiesce. We have done what we can to meet the convenience of the House; but we cannot afford to waste time in wrangling over the question. The Government will not proceed with the Resolutions to-day, and we shall put them down for Tuesday; but I cannot give any promise that they will come on for discussion on that day. Whether they do or not will depend on the state of the Public Business. It will not be our fault if, when the Motion of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) comes on on Tuesday evening, strangers are obliged to withdraw.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
, as a Member of the Committee, said, he wished to say a few words on the subject. He was not present at the discussion which had occurred after 2 o'clock that morning; but he could not help characterizing the mode in which it was proposed to proceed in the present instance as eminently unsatisfactory. Fair Notice ought, he thought, always to be given of the business which was to be 149 brought on, and the Notice Paper should contain a true record of that business, which was not the case with that which hon. Members received that morning.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
thanked the Government for postponing the consideration of the Resolutions, as it would have been very unfair to have passed Resolutions which would have been equivalent to Standing Orders without ample Notice having been given. There were several of the Resolutions of the Committee, and especially that which related to taking no opposed business after half-past 12 o'clock, which ought to be submitted to the House. That particular recommendation bore reforence to the health of the Speaker and to the health of every hon. Member of the House, and it ought to receive full consideration.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
desired, as the Prime Minister had called in question the propriety of the course which he had deemed it to be his duty to take last Session, to say that he had informed the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler), the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. M. Chambers), and others that he would not move that strangers should be ordered to withdraw when the Motion which had been alluded to came on on Tuesday next.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.