HC Deb 13 February 1872 vol 209 cc297-305

Moved, "That this House will meet To-morrow at Two o'clock."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


said, that the Motion before the House enabled him to make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the state of the Notice Paper for to-night showed that it was quite impossible to carry out the understanding which was entered into with the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the Public Business and the Motion standing in his name. Thirteen hon. Members had given Notice of various Resolutions with regard to the business of the House. The Notice Paper suggested two considerations—first, that as it stands it would be impossible to proceed to a consideration and debate on the business of the House without constant interruptions, and that it would be impossible, with the Notice as it stands, to come to a satisfactory conclusion on this most important subject, which interested every Member of this House, and through the Members of this House deeply affected the interests of the country. He would make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the order of the Government that it would be reasonable that the House should devote one whole day to the future arrangements of its business. The Government was asking to be placed in command of more days, and he suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that he should relieve the House of the embarrassment in which it was placed consequent on the change which had taken place in the intention of the Government with respect to the Public Business. He felt, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) and a great many Members of the House, that there had been Committees enough, and that what was needed now was that the House should decide what Amendments were necessary in its procedure—Amendments having been suggested by the Select Committee of the House which sat last year. He believed some of them would greatly contribute to the relief of the House. He had met a very high authority—one of the highest authorities with respect to the business of the House, and therefore with respect to the prospects of the Session—and he had said—"I am glad to hear that you are about to draw the attention of the House to this subject, because I am quite confident that unless something is soon done the House of Commons will come to a dead lock." Now, it would be lamentable that it should come to a dead lock; but some of the means taken to extricate the House were almost as mischievous as the dead lock itself. He would therefore conclude by asking the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the Government would assist the House by devoting a day to the consideration of the various subjects connected with the future transaction of the business of the House; and he could only say that if the Government would decline to grant the House this favour, he and he believed other hon. Members would be anxious to use their best endeavours to put some Friday at the service of the House.


said, he hoped Her Majesty's Government would consent to postpone the consideration of the proposed alterations in the mode of conducting business. These changes involved one of the most important questions which could be brought before the House, and ought not to be pressed on without further deliberation. They were placed in considerable difficulty by being asked to go on with the Resolutions that evening, no proper opportunity having boon afforded them for giving Notice of Amendments. He was exceedingly anxious to consult with hon. Members on whose judgment he relied as to what Amendments he should propose in the Resolutions, but he had been allowed no time to do so. He therefore trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would defer his Resolutions for a few days.


said, he had risen at the same moment as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), to make the same request as he had done. When they considered that the most important question which could be brought before the House was the arrangement of the machinery by which it conducted its business, it was really desirable that Government should do those private Members who wished to take part in the discussion of the question the justice of giving them the opportunity of considering it which they desired. Although the subject had been inquired into by a Committee which had reported, and whose recommendations were laid before the House last Session, yet the Prime Minister the other night got up and said he did not think that inquiry sufficient; that it was desirable to have further inquiry; and that whatever was done should be done with the utmost deliberation. That appeared to be the rational way of dealing with the question, and was the result of its consideration by the Government during the Recess. But no sooner was it proposed than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) rose and stated that, all the requisite information being already before the House, there was no necessity for another Committee. Whereupon the Government immediately changed their course, and gave Notice that in a day or two a series of Resolutions would be submitted to the House. He did not say that in a spirit of captious opposition to the Government; but that was not the way in which so grave a question as the Business of the House should be brought before it by the Government. Considering the circumstances attending the Report of last year's Committee, that their decision was not very distinct, and that their Resolutions were carried by a very small majority, he thought the original proposal of the Government for a further inquiry by a Committee was the right one, and he would ask the Prime Minister to revert to it, rather than to persevere in his hasty determination to deal with the question at once by Resolution. At all events, if they proceeded by Resolution, instead of attempting to run this matter like a cargo of contraband goods on a night set apart for private Members, let them fix it on the first Order of the Day on some Government night at least a week or a fortnight hence—a course which would not involve so long a delay as the appointment of a Committee would have occasioned.


said, he thought it was the interest of the Government itself—of which he was a general supporter—that that question, which was not a party one, should not be brought before the House in a way which was sure to run more or less counter to the feeling of private Members on both sides. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not press his Resolutions to a precipitate decision at the fag-end of the evening.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with his extremely yielding nature, would not resist the applications made to him by Gentlemen on both sides of the House. That was a question in which the interests even of the Government—of which his hon. Friend who spoke last was so good a supporter—must be held subordinate to the interests of the House. The question was one which concerned the entire House, and although it was not expressly mentioned in Her Majesty's Speech, yet it might come under the head of the several "administrative reforms" which were hinted at in that document. This was a night devoted to private Members; there were 36 Motions on the Paper, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Resolutions stood as the 20th. What chance, therefore, had they of coming on at an hour when they could be considered with the care due to their importance? He was surprised at the selection of that night for bringing them on. The right hon. Gentleman could not surely be aware of the very great and deep interest taken in the subject by nearly every Gentleman present, and more especially by those who come under the anomalous class of independent Members, because that blow was expressly aimed at that highly-deserving body of men. The Government, of course, wishing that such a body of men should be in that House, could not refuse the request made both by dependent and independent Members that they should select one of their own nights for the discussion of that question. He believed the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with his natural good humour, would yield on that point with the same becoming grace as he gave up some of the principal features in his last Budget. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman refused to do so, he intended to himself move the adjournment of the House the moment the right hon. Gentleman rose.


concurred in the appeal to the Government not to press their Resolutions on the House that night. The Prime Minister had told them very properly that last Session was most prolific in suggestions from hon. Members for improving the mode of conducting business; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposed Resolutions did not deal with, but rather ignored, those suggestions, some of which, in the opinion of many, would do much more than his Resolutions to facilitate the despatch of business. The suggestions, in particular, made before the Committee of last year by a high authority on Parliamentary law, who sat at the Table of that House, were deserving of the most careful consideration; but they were not embodied in the proposals of the Government. He thought the Prime Minister had been too yielding in abandoning his Motion for the appointment of a Committee, and he would recommend him to adhere to his first decision. The Report of last year's Committee was incomplete, and to be viewed rather as a mere ad interim Report. There was nothing of a party character in that question, because Members on both sides had been unanimous in their recommendations to the Government, who, he hoped, would consider the matter as a whole.


said, it seem fated that that question of the Orders of the House was to occupy almost as much time in deciding when it was to be discussed as it would do by its actual discussion. But he would endeavour, as far as he could, to state to the House how the matter really stood, and he could assure them that the Government had no other wish than to consult their opinions, because it was perfectly true, as was said by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) and other Gentlemen, that that was as much or more the affair of the House than the affair of the Government; and therefore it was only reasonable that the wishes of the House should be consulted, more especially on a matter of that kind, in which no doubt every hon. Gentleman thought himself personally interested. Last Session a Committee sat on that question and made a certain Report. Certain of the Resolutions in that Report the Government felt it their duty to submit to the House last Session, and those Resolutions were frequently on the Paper, but, unfortunately, from the pressure of business, they were never able to bring them on. The Government, therefore, thought at the beginning of the present Session, as probably many of the things that happened last Session had called the attention of the public and of the House to the state of their Orders, that the best course was to refer the matter back to the Committee; and that proposition they accordingly made to the House. But hon. Gentlemen, and particularly the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) and another Gentleman of very great weight on those subjects—the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie)—got up and objected to that course, and thought its adoption would throw what would certainly have been a very undeserved slight upon the proceedings of the Committee of last year; and no other Gentleman rising to express a contrary opinion, and Government, having no wish in the matter except that it should be managed in a way; agreeable to the wishes of the House, assented to proceeding by Resolution. Now, they found on bringing Resolutions forward that a movement had arisen from the other side, and Government was asked to re-consider the course of proceeding by Resolution, and recur to the course originally proposed of appointing a Committee. He did not think that that would be a proper course for them to pursue. The Government had yielded to the expression of opinion that the matter having already been decided by a Committee it should not be sent before a fresh Committee until it had been submitted to the judgment of the House. The Government, however, were of opinion that when the judgment of the House had been pronounced upon the recommendations of that Committee, it would be right that the matter should again be sent before a Committee in order that it might be ascertained whether any fresh view had been arrived at with respect to it during the Recess. The Government were asked not to bring on the matter that night, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt), to whose opinion great weight ought to be attached, had expressed a wish that further time should be given the House for considering the question. It would be very difficult for the Government to press the matter forward on that occasion in the face of such representations; but, at the same time, he must frankly state that it would be simply impossible, in the present state of public business, for a Government night to be given for the discussion of this subject. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), however, had made a suggestion that the Government would have the greatest pleasure in acceding to, and that was that they should devote some private night to the discussion of the matter; and Friday had been suggested. As a compromise between the House and the Government, he thought that the adoption of this suggestion would be very reasonable, and he would suggest that some Friday should be taken for the purpose. He might, however, remind the House that these Resolutions could not be brought on as Amendments on going into Committee of Supply, and if the course so suggested were adopted it could only be done by postponing the Committee of Supply until after the discussion upon the Resolutions had been held. Probably the most convenient day on which the discussion could be taken would be next Friday week.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was in error when he stated that the House had objected to the proposal of the Prime Minister to refer this matter to a fresh Committee. The fact was that while only two voices had been raised against that proposal, and before the general view of the House upon the subject could be ascertained, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had risen in his place, and had withdrawn his Resolution for the re-appointment of the Committee of last Session. In his opinion, the great majority of the House was in favour of the re-appointment of that Committee. He thought, however, that the Committee should be differently constituted. Further, it was within the knowledge of most Members that there were facts in connection with the proceedings of the Committee which made those proceedings so irregular that they had lost all claim to the consideration of the House. He would, he believed, not be using too strong an expression when he said that the question submitted to the Committee was not fairly dealt with by them. They were about to deal with one of the most important questions that could be brought before the attention of the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) had truly said that it was a question of importance to independent Members of the House; and he would add that it was a most important question, not only for the House, but for the country at large. If this question were placed for discussion upon a private night it must necessarily come on at a time that it would not be possible to give it due consideration. The right hon. Gentleman said that it would not be possible to give a Government night for the purpose; but could it be said that the question was so unimportant that it was not worthy of having a Government night devoted to it? It was a Government measure, brought forward by the Government; and if it were not a direct attack upon the privileges of the House, it was at least a proposal to make such vital changes in the mode of conducting business that no more important question could be brought before them. He trusted that the House would not consent to discuss the question unless it were brought forward as the first measure upon a Government night.


said, he thought that the House had some reason to find fault with the course taken by the Government in respect of this question. It was the understanding last Session that the Government would endeavour to embody the recommendations of the Committee in their Resolutions. As one of the Members of the Committee, he might say that there were six Resolutions passed, but three of them had been utterly ignored; and of the Resolutions proposed by the Government, the second one had not been proposed by the Committee. The Resolutions that the House were asked to adopt were not those of the Committee, but some that the Government had evolved out of their inner consciousness. There was but one Resolution upon which the Committee were unanimous, and that was that no opposed business should be taken after half-past 12 at night; and surely if the Committee were worth anything the Government should have taken some notice of that. The only Resolution of the Committee that the Government had taken any notice of was that as to strangers withdrawing, and, under these circumstances, it was too bad to endeavour to entrap the House into a decision as if they were only carrying into effect the decision of the Committee.


pointed out that the debate was of rather an irregular character, and remarked that, as he understood the state of the case, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had practically abandoned the hope of bringing on these Resolutions that evening, and had, in accordance with a sort of vague desire to meet the wishes of the House—which had been ascertained in some unknown manner—proposed to fix the discussion on the Government Resolutions for some Friday evening. He (Mr. Bouverie) was afraid that when the appointed Friday arrived hon. Members who had Notices on the Paper would not be so ready to give up their rights as the right hon. Gentleman appeared to assume. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem to fully appreciate the force of his own case, because the matter was one which concerned not only the House and the Government, but the despatch of the business of the country. If these Resolutions were required to facilitate the business of the country, he was sure that the majority of the House would assent to them; but he thought it desirable that the question should be disposed of upon a Government night, and as soon as possible, because if the consequences anticipated from the Resolutions should follow the Government would gat on with their business much more rapidly and efficiently than if this discussion were kept hanging over. The Government should take warning from what had occurred last Session with reference to this subject, because, although the Report of the Committee was laid upon the Table of that House on the 31st of last March, no time had hitherto been found for discussing the recommendations it contained.


said, he thought that there were two courses open to the Government in this matter—to regard the question either as one of the most important that could be submitted to Parliament or else as a Government matter, and in either case to bring it on on a Government night.

Motion agreed to.

House, at rising, to adjourn till To-morrow, at Two of the clock.