HC Deb 19 July 1872 vol 212 cc1417-30

, in moving— That upon Tuesday next, and every succeeding Tuesday, during the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions, Government Orders of the Day having priority, said, that on having looked back with some care to the dates at which this Motion had commonly been made, he had found that it was usually made about three weeks before the close of the Session. In 1868 it was made on the 6th of July, and the Prorogation took place on the 31st of July; in 1870, the Motion was made on the 25th of July, and the Prorogation took place on the 10th of August, and in 1871 the Motion was made on the 31st of July, and on the 21st of August Parliament was prorogued. He hoped it might be possible to bring the Business of the present Session to a close in less than three weeks, and the House would perhaps think it not unreasonable that this Motion should now be made.


said, he did not intend to object to the Motion, but must be allowed to make one remark upon the alterations which had taken place in the proceedings of the House in an early part of the Session. The Motion of the right hon. Gentleman was, in point of fact, a sentence of death on many measures which had been introduced by private Members. It might be necessary at this time of the Session to carry out this system of execution; but it would have been more courteous towards non-official Members if an earlier Notice had been given of the intention of the Go- vernment. The proceedings of that House had been so altered that they had now Morning Sittings before Easter; and, as the House on those occasions met at 2 o'clock, adjourned at 7, and again met at 9 o'clock, the effect was that the time available for Motions and Orders introduced by non-official Members was now practically one-half of what it had been before. Two Sessions ago there had been a Select Committee to consider the subject of the Business of the House, but of all the Resolutions come to by that Committee, only that which conferred additional facilities on the Government to the detriment of non-official Members had been passed by the House, and non-official Members were now incapacitated from passing into law any measures which they proposed. The result of the present arrangement, therefore, was that after Whitsuntide non-official Members were incapacitated from proceeding with their measures, not by the decision of the House, but by the want of an opportunity of obtaining that decision. Under the new arrangement, the Business of the House was more and more falling into the hands of the Government, and, as they were supported by the Leaders of the Opposition, private Members had lost that security which they formerly possessed for the performance of their duties to their constituents. He feared that in next Session the invasion on the representative character of the House would be still greater, but he trusted that non-official Members would not fail, if not in the present Session, at least in the next, to assert their ancient privileges.


said, he desired to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government to the Rule relating to Public Business agreed to by the Select Committee, to the effect that no Opposed Business should be taken after half-past 12 o'clock. The right hon. Gentleman induced the House to alter that Resolution, so as to provide that no Business with regard to which Notice of Opposition had been previously given should be taken after half-past 12 o'clock. He asked whether the Government had derived any benefit from that alteration? A better instance of the consequence of that alteration could not be given than what occurred last night. He was ready to render every assistance to the Government to carry on the Business they proposed, but at a certain hour the House was unwilling to proceed with it. He, therefore, left the House at half-past 1 o'clock that morning. He devoted as much attention to the Business of the House as could be reasonably expected of him at his time of life; but at the hour when he left discussions arose upon different Motions of Adjournment. He was aware that the Government felt that they must press forward their Business; but was it not worth their while to carry out the Resolution of the Select Committee? There were always several unopposed Orders of the Day on the Paper, and if the Government chose to proceed with them after half-past 12 o'clock, the House would never be unwilling to dispose of them. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would abide by the Resolution of the Select Committee that no Opposed Business should be taken after half-past 12 o'clock, for he believed it was almost the unanimous feeling of the House that no good had resulted from the departure from that Rule, because, whenever Opposed Business came on after that hour, repeated Motions for Adjournment were made. In fact, he believed that last night there were three or four Motions of Adjournment. By the present system of late Sittings the health of Members was seriously affected. He, therefore, hoped the Government would next Session adopt some definite and fixed Rule for the transaction of the Public Business, adhering to the limit of half-past 12 for bringing on Opposed measures. If the Government distinctly acceded to that, he should be disposed to make considerable concessions to them with regard to the conduct of Business on other than Government nights.


thought that was hardly the proper opportunity for discussing the conduct of Business; but he thought there could be no doubt that the Rule which had been laid down that Session of taking no Opposed new matter after 12.30 A.M. was universally approved. His right hon. Friend at the head of the Government must bear in mind that by the operation of the new Rule with reference to Committee of Supply, the rights of independent Members had been very much curtailed; and if the Motion he now made was agreed to, practically the Government would be in possession of the whole time of the House up to the end of the Session. There did not appear on the Notice Paper any important Notice for Tuesday, except one which had been given by his hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock). That Motion had reference to one of the Departments of the Government which ought to be discussed, and if this Motion were agreed to his hon. Friend would be entirely shut out from bringing it before the House. He hoped, therefore, his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government would make an exception of that Motion, or give the hon. Member for Maidstone another legitimate opportunity of bringing it forward at a reasonable hour.


reminded private Members that the Rule prohibiting the commencement of Opposed Business after half-past 12 o'clock had done as much as anything to prevent them from bringing forward their Motions. He suggested that the Government should propose next Session the appointment of a Committee to consider the Rules of the House, for unless some alteration was made in the mode of carrying on Business, private Members might give up all idea of carrying their measures through.


observed that besides several matters which affected large classes of the community, and which would be considered out-of-doors to have been got rid of by a side-wind, if the House had not the opportunity of considering them, there was another subject for discussion on Tuesday evening, which had not been referred to by his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock—he meant an important Bill which had on the back of it the name of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, in which he (Mr. W. M. Torrens) took much interest, and on which they had vainly endeavoured to elicit the views of the Government. For himself, he refused to recognize the gangway as the division of competency in that House. There never had been in his experience a more docile Session of Parliament than the present; there was nothing whatever that the Government could complain of as an interruption of Public Business; and he trusted independent Members were not to be still further deprived of their opportu- nities of debate and legislation. In fact, if the present system was to be continued the Members of the Government might just as well meet in Downing Street, and transact the whole of their business in that locality. It was entirely the fault of the Government that they were then unable to proceed with the Public Business on the eve of the Dog-days. Why did they not bring forward a proper plan for the conduct of Public Business? They first took one night from private Members, and then another, and now it was proposed to take Tuesday away from them. He ventured to tell the right hon. Gentleman he would not shorten the Session by carrying the present Motion. It would only tend to waste time on other nights. The truth of the matter was, although the House might disguise it for some little time longer, they were every year, every month and day, falling more and more into the course of personal government which they had seen exemplified in other places. He trusted that hon. Members would not give up their right of discussing matters in which their constituents felt an interest.


confessed he was one of those who had conduced to keep Mr. Speaker in the Chair till he was happily released by a count-out at half-past 3 o'clock that morning. A Bill which some people considered of importance was advanced a stage; and he thought they did good work, though personally they suffered for it. He must say upon the whole that the Rule not to take new Opposed matter after 12.30 A.M. had worked well. Everyone who looked back to last Session and the Session before must reflect with shame and confusion on their condition ordinarily between the hours of 12 and 3 in the months of June, July, and August. Perfect confusion and uncertainty prevailed sometimes; hon. Members taking for granted that something would not come on which did come on, and then on looking at the journals next morning, they found the measure in which they were interested had passed. Then there were constant Motions to adjourn the House, and hon. Members were sick, sulky, and at war with themselves and the world till 3 o'clock. The right hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) might, for all he knew, have a triumphant answer to make to the charge, but if he had, his worst friends were those who sat beside him on the Treasury bench, if they did not allow that answer to be given by giving an opportunity for debating the matter in that House. The question was one upon which the mind of England was, whether rightly or wrongly, excited. [Laughter.] Yes, the question was taken up by the public journals, and was much discussed in private and scientific circles. [Laughter, and "Question!"] When independent Members heard cries of Question from the Treasury Bench it only seemed as an incitement to them to persevere in their remarks. He hoped that if the Tuesdays were given up to the Government at the present comparatively early date in the Session, it would be on the clear and specific understanding that the Government would not refuse to give to a Member of their body an opportunity of vindicating his conduct in relation to the management of Kew Gardens.


said, he quite concurred with the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) in thinking that the Government had no cause to complain of the treatment which they had received from the House during the present Session. They had, on the contrary, received from the House the most generous assistance. In asking for additional facilities at the present period it was their desire to give private Members no cause of complaint, and they were acting under the belief that in the course they were taking they were complying with the general wish of the House. The Government, at the demand of the House and of the country, had introduced a variety of measures which they had pressed forward as far as they could; but they had not yet been able to give effect to them, and they were now in this position—that they could only pass these measures through Parliament by trenching somewhat on the rights of private Members, and therefore it was that they made this appeal to the House, His hon. Friend had referred to the Building Societies Bill; but he would remind him that the Government had issued a Commission to inquire into the subject of Friendly Societies, and that, although that Commission had made its Report the whole of the evidence had not yet appeared. The Session had been one of a peculiarly heavy nature, especially so far as the Home Department was concerned, and it was absolutely impossible therefore that he could have given to the question that consideration which it deserved. He might add that the Royal Commission had signified that they were opposed to some of the clauses of the Bill, and as it concerned his (Mr. Bruce's) Department, had reported to him that they thought it was one which ought not to pass in its present shape. There was also a considerable number of Amendments on the Paper, and the Bill itself would give rise to considerable discussion, and therefore he thought it would be impossible to pass the Bill that Session. He would not enter into other matters for the purpose of vindicating the conduct of the Government in demanding from the House an extension of the time already possessed by them.


said, that if the independent Members had behaved handsomely towards the Government, they had behaved very unhandsomely towards the independent Members. The fact was, the greatest confusion had prevailed in the conduct of the Public Business under the auspices of the present Ministry, because ever since they had come into office they had preferred political and partizan legislation to that non-political and useful practical legislation in which the great mass of Her Majesty's subjects were interested. The consequence was, that the House found itself now in the Dog-days discussing one of the most important measures of the Session, and the scene which had occurred early that morning was, in his opinion, very little creditable to the Government, and very little conducive to the public interests. Until the present Government came into power the management of the Public Business was confided to the non-political Secretary of the Treasury, acting, of course, under the Prime Minister. That important duty was now, however, discharged by the political Secretary to the Treasury. [Mr. GLADSTONE: That is totally wrong.] If he was wrong, he was extremely glad to be corrected; but, whatever the cause, it was perfectly clear that the conduct of the Business of the House was not what it ought to be, and that a return to the former system would be of advantage. He hoped, he might add, that a full opportunity would be given for the discussion which had been referred to by the right hon. Mem- ber for Kilmarnock and his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge on the Motion of the hon. Member for Maidstone. In those cases in which the conduct of a Minister was impugned it was obviously the duty of the Government to afford every facility for the discussion of the subject, and he hoped some Member of the Government would explain clearly what it was they proposed to do in the matter. There was another subject to which he wished briefly to advert. An arrangement had a few days ago been entered into between the Government and his hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) on the subject of the Thames Embankment Bill, which he understood was to come on at half-past 10 on Monday next. Since then, however, there was a statement to the effect that negotiations were going on for the purchase of Northumberland House, and it was, he thought, desirable that the question of the Thames Embankment should not be discussed until the result of those negotiations between the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Duke of Northumberland was known. There was no chance, however, he understood, that the negotiations would come to a close before Monday next, and he would therefore suggest, with a view to facilitating Public Business, that the discussion to which he was referring should be postponed until next Session. As to the conduct of the Business of the House as it affected the privileges of private Members, he quite concurred in what had fallen from his right hon. Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Wilson-Patten), and he should next Session take an early opportunity of bringing forward a Motion to the effect that the House should always meet at 2 o'clock on Tuesdays, and that the time from that hour until 7 should be at the disposal of private Members, the Government Business, whenever it was necessary to have a second Sitting, to be taken on the re-assembling of the House at 9 o'clock. By that means private Members would have secured to them a certain number of hours on Tuesday.


said, he must do the noble Lord the justice to say that on no occasion when a possible opportunity offered did he neglect it for the purpose of raising questions of political contention. Even on the most trivial matters of business the noble Lord, if he could not make the debate sharp in any other way, always contrived to drop a small portion of vinegar into it, in order to add savour and piquancy to the discussion—no matter whether it was upon the Business of the House or the construction of the universe. The noble Lord had introduced into his remarks a variety of topics, beginning with want of confidence in the Government, and ending with Northumberland House, and it was quite true, as he had stated, that the Government had entered into an arrangement with the hon. Member for Westminster with respect to the discussion on the Thames Embankment Bill. If anything should occur to render an alteration in that arrangement desirable, he should take care that the House should have Notice on the subject that evening. He was not aware, however, at that moment that there was anything which would be likely to interfere with it. He must say, with regard to what had fallen from the right hon. Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Wilson-Patten), who was always desirous of facilitating the Business of the House, that it was very doubtful whether he had progressed matters much by introducing the general question of the arrangement of the Business of the House, which they found it wholly impossible to discuss. He could not agree with the sweeping condemnation which had been made against the working of the half-past 12 system. He was, however, not going into that matter then, because, before discussing it, it would require some further consideration—indeed, he would say that it demanded it. In the course of this discussion one practical question had been raised with regard to the Motion of which his hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock) had given Notice in relation to the case of Kew Gardens. A mistake had been made by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) and other hon. Gentlemen, who had proceeded on the supposition that the hon. Member for Maidstone had got possession of a day for the purpose of bringing his Motion forward, and that the Government were about to displace him from that day—in fact, there was not the faintest possibility of the hon. Member being able to bring it forward on that day, or rather the odds against him, if carefully calculated, would be a thousand to one. This Motion stood seventh on the list for the 30th of July, and the six Motions preceding it embraced four subjects of the greatest political interest and importance, and each one, according to the usage of this House, could hardly be disposed of at one Sitting, even if it stood alone. He wished to make these remarks in order to disconnect the subject from the Motion now before the House, although he did not at all disagree with what had fallen from his right hon. Friend and others, as to the desirability of enabling any hon. Member who wished to question the conduct of the Government to bring his Motion forward in some way or other according to the convenience of the House. He must repeat that he did not think the hon. Member for Maidstone had the smallest chance of bringing forward his Motion on the evening referred to; but the Government were desirous to give the hon. Baronet every assistance. If the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) was willing to admit that the Government should have until the 21st of August for the prosecution of Government measures, he (Mr. Gladstone) would admit that he had no case for the Motion. But that not being the case, he thought the Motion which he had brought forward was reasonable, and he trusted it would be agreed to.


congratulated his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens), and his other Friends below the gangway on being at last awakened to a sense of their perilous situation. For the last three Sessions they had been deaf to his voice; but he hoped they would now enter into a solemn league and covenant with him and his Colleagues with a view to resist in future the oppression and the aggressions of the Government on both sides. He hoped they would take care next Session not to sanction a renewal of the unconstitutional practice of Mr. Speaker leaving the Chair without it being in the power of any hon. Member to bring forward matters of grievance. Likewise, he sincerely trusted there would be an abrogation of the half-past 12 o'clock Rule, which had so pleased his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Boston (Mr. Collins), because it had enabled him to defeat a most righteous measure—the marriage with a deceased wife's sister. The present difficulty was owing to two causes. First, the Government brought in too many Bills; and, secondly, they made too many mistakes. Of course, it was not in the power of the Government to avoid mistakes; but it certainly was in their power to avoid bringing in too many Bills. Let the Government in future avoid sensational legislation, and try to confer some real benefit on the country at large.


remarked that a large amount of expenditure still remained to be voted. The Votes in Supply still remaining to be disposed of amounted to about £7,750,000 for the Army, upwards of £3,000,000 for the Navy, and something like £5,000,000 for the Civil Service. Therefore, on the 19th of July, the House had still to vote no less than £15,000,000. He wished to remind his hon. Friends below the gangway that they could not exercise a proper influence over the right hon. Gentlemen above the gangway if they stayed away while the Estimates were being considered. If the Motion were carried—and he, for one, should vote for it—he hoped it would be on the understanding that the Government would not put Supply into a corner. The noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. C. Bentinck) were both in states of mind of a very peculiar character. The noble Lord was in a state of chaos, while the hon. Gentleman was in a state of alarm. Both of them made an appeal to the House from their different points of view. The noble Lord assumed that the Government had nothing to show for the time they had occupied this Session. Now he, on the other hand, ventured to assert that they had a great deal to show, and that the country at large would consider the Session a satisfactory one if it were distinguished only by the passing of the Ballot Bill. The noble Lord had alleged that the Government had occupied all the time of Parliament with political measures. This Session had, however, been in a remarkable manner devoid of political questions. Even the Ballot Bill could hardly be considered as a party political measure, inasmuch as many hon. Gentlemen opposite were advocates of it. Perhaps that was beside the point, but, at all events, the Government had brought in the Scotch Education Bill, the Mines Regulation Bill, the Public Health Bill, and the Licensing Bill, none of which were party measures. In regard to the last named Bill, might he venture very earnestly to submit to the Government that if they had the Tuesdays at their disposal they ought to give it the first place. He trusted the Government would not occupy the short remainder of the Session by pressing forward the Military Forces Localization Bill, for he thought it was a measure which could very well wait until next Session.


thought the Government had better rest and be thankful, believing that over-legislation was the fault of the present day. He also believed the conduct of Public Business would be greatly facilitated if a new rule were made about the "counting-out" of the House. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen might cry "Oh, oh!" but he had seen the hon. and learned Member for Boston (Mr. Collins) prowling about the House watching his opportunity to get a count.


appealed to Mr. Speaker as to whether the hon. Gentleman was in Order in making these remarks, seeing there was a Notice on the Paper in reference to the practice of counting-out?


said, he was perfectly in Order, for he had alluded to the subject then for fear the House should be counted out at 9 o'clock. In his opinion, no hon. Member ought to be allowed to count out the House more than once in each Session. A great deal of time was lost in consequence of the House being counted out the moment after Mr. Speaker took the Chair.


said, that as in the course of the discussion frequent allusion had been made to the Motion which stood in his name, he would take this opportunity of thanking the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government for the promise that he should be afforded an opportunity for bringing forward his Motion with reference to the management of Kew Gardens.


believed it would be for the public advantage that the Thames Embankment Bill should not be proceeded with this year. If it were proceeded with, he should persist in the Amendments of which he had given Notice, and from the amount of support accorded to them he thought they would be carried. The Government would, he hoped, withdraw the Bill, in order to give time for negotiations which would enable the Metropolitan Board and the Government to deal in a satisfactory manner with the land on the Embankment. With regard to the half-past 12 o'clock Rule, he was of opinion that it had tended to protract debates and delay Public Business, for discussions were sometimes prolonged in order that this hour might be reached and other Business postponed.


, answering the suggestion of the hon. Member for Westminster, said he could not postpone the Thames Embankment Bill.


said, he took exception to the statement that the discussion on Government Orders had been protracted beyond the proper limit, and would not follow the example set by the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands), who had indulged in a retrospect of the Session, which, if a little more reliable, might be deserving of attention in the preparation of Her Majesty's most gracious Speech from the Throne. The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. C. Bentinck) had said the provision restricting Opposed Business to half-past 12 o'clock was due to the zeal of the hon. and learned Member for Boston, and intended to defeat the measure relating to marriage with a deceased wife's sister. He was as strenuous a supporter of the measure as the hon. Member for Whitehaven, but he must protest against the assumption that those who supported a Rule which tended to prevent mischievous legislation being forced upon a jaded House during the small hours were actuated by feelings in reference to any particular measure. As to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, he would accept it with a modification. Private Members must, no doubt, abandon any idea of forcing their Bills through Parliament at this period of the Session; but while the Government Orders had precedence over other Orders of the Day on Tuesdays, he suggested that Notices of Motion should have precedence over Orders of the Day.


entered his protest against this proposal of the Government, having charge of a Bill which was down for discussion next Tuesday. The Royal Commissioners had issued their Report on the subject of the Bill, which was framed in accordance with their recommendations.


The hon. Member is not in Order, for he is not only discussing a Bill which is not before the House, but is entering into the details of the Bill.


reminded the House that an hour and 20 minutes had already been spent in discussing this question, and asked whether it was not now time to enter upon Business.


said, that while private Members might be willing to sacrifice their claims for the purpose of carrying measures of great public importance—such as the Public Health Bill, the Licensing Bill, or the Military Re-organization Bill—he could not understand why they should be asked to make sacrifices for the sake of advancing the Thames Embankment Bill, which was nothing more than a small Treasury squabble, and was a subject unworthy of any sacrifices by private Members.


wished to state that he had withdrawn his Motion respecting Irish Army agents, the Government having acceded to the suggestion made from the War Office for compensating those persons.

Motion agreed to.

Resolved, That upon Tuesday next, and every succeeding Tuesday, during the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions, Government Orders of the Day having priority.—(Mr. Gladstone.)

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