HC Deb 26 February 1872 vol 209 cc1036-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, at rising, do adjourn till Wednesday."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


I take this opportunity, Sir, of expressing my thanks for the attention given by you to my Question, and for the statement you have made in reply. But I confess I have heard the observation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) with great surprise, and I will state why I feel that surprise. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he knew nothing of the transaction to which the article I have read referred. I am bound to accept—and I do readily accept—the denial of the right hon. Gentleman; and it is quite clear, for some reason or other, that he at all events is not cognizant of this practice, if it ever existed. However, there are other hon. Members incorporated in those charges, and before we drop the subject we have a right to hear also the denial of the Secretary to the Treasury, as well as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutlandshire (Mr. Noel.) This, Sir, is a grave question, and I will show the House the grounds on which I heard with surprise the observations of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. Last Session I heard it stated that a certain hon. Gentleman went up to the Speaker, stating his wish to address the House upon a particular question. The answer which he received then was—"Your name is not down on the list handed in to me, and therefore I cannot call upon you." Now, after such a statement, I think that the House has a right to ask the Secretary of the Treasury, and the hon. Member for Rutlandshire, to say whether they have or have not any knowledge of the alleged facts to which the article I have read refers.


Sir, though I have been a Member of this House for nearly 15 years, I now address it for the first time, and, therefore, I have to throw myself on its kind indulgence. I can say most certainly and clearly that the statements in the newspaper article are not correct. No list has ever been drawn up by me under the sanction, or even with the knowledge, of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone). All that has happened is this—I had been often asked by my noble Friend who previously filled that Chair whether I knew who were likely to want to make speeches on certain subjects. I informed him, and he told me that the list, by which he was by no means bound, had often helped him in the course of the debate, as he thus knew the probable line which hon. Members might take. But I deny that there has been any attempt on my part, or, if I may say so, on the part of my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Noel), to try "to gag" hon. Members of this House. What I have done was done entirely at the request of the late Speaker, and I am not ashamed of it. However, I am heartily glad that the practice will not go on, for it has often placed me in a very unpleasant position with my own Friends; for having heard that I had mentioned their names to the Speaker, they fully expected to be called upon, and not being so, they naturally felt disappointed; but I need not say that it was impossible on all occasions to carry out their wishes. I am very sorry that I have had to make, in a very imperfect manner, this statement; but it is rather hard to be charged now with attempting "to gag" this House simply on the authority of a newspaper article published on the 5th of the month, when the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck) might, at the commencement of the Session, when the late Speaker was in his place, have brought forward this charge.


Sir, as my name has been mentioned in this matter, I must state what I have done on the occasions alluded to by the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck). When an important debate has been going on, I confess I have been most anxious, in order to facilitate the conduct of Public Business, to ascertain the names of hon. Gentlemen who wished to speak. This also I will say—I have given a list to the Speaker; but on no occasion have I ever advocated the claims of any particular Gentleman to priority of speech, nor have I ever tried to stifle debate by preventing independent Members from taking part in the discussion.


Sir, before the Motion is put I wish to say one word in defence of my noble Friend (Lord Ossington), who is not here to defend himself, and in doing so I must say I think that if the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. G. Bentinck) wished to make any personal attack upon my noble Friend, he should have made it when he was here, so as to give him an opportunity of answering the charge. We have heard the statements of two hon. Gentlemen eminently concerned in the charge; and I think the entire House will be of opinion that the assistance they have given to the late Speaker, in the discharge of his very difficult duties, was assistance which it was kind, courteous, and in every way becoming and right for them to give, and that the late Speaker had no connection whatever with the suppression of the right or power of speaking on the part of any hon. Member of this House. I will now pay this compliment to the Oppo-position. I do not know what remark is made by them upon the distribution of speeches on this side of the House, but we on this side do not observe that the most independent Members of Opposition, and those who have the least connection with the front bench opposite, are the most stinted either in their power or practice of addressing the House. With regard, however, to my noble Friend (Lord Ossington), if any matter of interest arose on which it was deemed material and becoming by any hon. Member of this House to examine into a charge made against my noble Friend, I must repeat I think that hon. Member would have exercised a sounder judgment if he had proposed such a charge for examination when my noble Friend (Lord Ossington) was present, than by bringing it forward on the present occasion. After having heard what has passed, it appears to me that what my noble Friend has done has been with no other desire than that of enabling him in the course of debate to discharge what is rather a difficult duty, and to make what may seem an invidious selection, in the manner most satisfactory to the House.


Sir, I am bound to say that the late Speaker, who often did me the honour of consulting me as to the conduct of debates of importance, often stated to me that his plan was, if possible, to give every section of the House an opportunity of expressing its views on the particular question under debate, but that it was impossible to obtain that desirable object unless some understanding was come to between those who represented the two larger parties in the House, and I never interfered with the conduct of the debate except in unison with the Speaker's views. I always thought it highly desirable that the various sections of the House should be represented in all debates of importance, and, so far from ever attempting to restrain the freedom of debate, I can only say, with regard to my own side of the House, that my conduct has been exactly the reverse. My object has been, ever since I have taken any lead in the conduct of affairs in this House, to develop as much as I could the rhetorical powers of the Conservative party, and any young Member who appeared extremely anxious to give to the House a specimen of such power, has always found in me a ready friend. Irrespective of that consideration, moreover, I think it wise, so far as possible, to give hon. Members below the gangway, often labouring under some smouldering emotions, every opportunity of relieving themselves by expressing their opinions; for I have always found that we have afterwards got on with better temper than sometimes occurs when hon. Members lose the opportunity of saying what they so much desire to state in their places in Parliament.

Motion agreed to.

House, at rising, to adjourn till Wednesday.