HC Deb 04 June 1872 vol 211 cc1222-35

rose, pursuant to Notice, to move a series of Resolutions on this subject. The first Resolution was— That during those Sittings of the House which are limited as to time no Motion for the Adjourn- ment of any Debate be put from the Chair within half-an-hour of the time fixed for the conclusion of Opposed Business. An incident occurred one Wednesday in the month of April last which was a sufficient proof of the necessity of some such rule as that which he was desirous of seeing adopted. On that occasion the House, after full and long debate, was prepared for a division upon the second reading of an important Bill—the Permissive Prohibitory Liquor Bill—when an hon. Member (Sir Frederick W. Heygate) thought fit to move the adjournment of the House at about 25 minutes before six o'clock. The result of that was that a division was necessarily taken on the Question of adjournment, and the very numbers of those who opposed and rejected that Motion constituted the real reason why the adjournment became the inevitable consequence of the Motion being made. That was a practical absurdity the repetition of which ought to be prevented. He wished to see the principle already recognized by the House, in fixing a quarter before six on Wednesday or 10 minutes before seven at Morning Sittings extended, so as to make the limit within which the adjournment might be moved half-an-hour before the time fixed for the conclusion of Opposed Business.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That during those Sittings of the House which are limited as to time, no Motion for the Adjournment of any Debate be put from the Chair within half an hour of the time fixed for the conclusion of Opposed Business."—(Mr. Raikes.)


said, all Rules which tended to complicate Parliamentary procedure were not beneficial, and should only be adopted when they could be proved to be effectual for the attainment of the object contemplated. So far as he had observed, the method of adjourning the debate on occasions when their Sittings terminated at a fixed time was not the favourite method of obstructing business. The method much more frequently resorted to was what was known as "talking the measure out." A distinguished Member whom he now had in his mind's eye had vaunted himself for having performed an achievement of that kind in the course of the present Session. This was like a case in which they had two vents open, a large vent and a small one, and they wanted to keep the vessel watertight. The hon. Member (Mr. Raikes) appeared to him to shut the small vent and to leave the large one open. The proposal would not be effective for its purpose, while it tended to complicate the Rules of the House.


supported the Resolution. No doubt, on Wednesdays attempts might be made to obstruct Business by talking questions out; but occasionally that process was exhausted, and then the second method was resorted to, of moving the adjournment at an hour when the division must occupy so much time as practically to put an end to the matter in hand. The Resolution would at least destroy that second method of obstruction.


said, he thought they had all experienced the complicated process resorted to on such occasions, under the cover of moving the adjournment of the debate or of the House; and he was of opinion that the proposal of his hon. Friend should be tried as an experiment.


believed in the sincerity of the Members of that House, and had heard an hon. Gentleman opposite move the adjournment of a debate on the ground that there were several Members on their side who wished to speak. It was a very curious thing, that although the Motion for the adjournment of the debate on that occasion was negatived by a very large majority, the result desired by the hon. Member who made the Motion was attained, because before the division was concluded the time had arrived when by the Rules of the House the debate stood adjourned. He was afraid that if the proposal of the hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes) were adopted, half-an-hour instead of five or ten minutes would be lost on all occasions when the Rules of the House required a debate to stand adjourned at a particular hour.


said, he could scarcely tell from the very lucid speech to which they had just listened which side the hon. And learned Gentleman had taken on this question; but, at all events, he was mistaken in assuming that half-an-hour would be lost on the occasions to which he referred; because that time would be occupied in discussing the subject before the House.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


proceeded to say that if he could see the slightest use in moving the adjournment of a debate within half-an-hour before it would stand adjourned by the Rules of the House, he would be willing to vote against the Amendment. But what was the use of making such a Motion when the event must naturally take place without its being made? It was done merely to evade the inconvenient responsibility of Members. To quote a case in point, he might refer to the Motion made for the adjournment of the debate on the Permissive Bill on a recent Wednesday by an hon. Member below the gangway on the other side of the House, with the sole object of enabling hon. Members to evade committing themselves by voting on the Main Question.


rose to correct the noble Lord's statement. The Motion for the adjournment of the debate on the occasion to which he referred had been made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Londonderry (Sir Frederick Heygate) who sat immediately behind the noble Lord himself.


doubted whether it would be advisable to adopt the proposal of the hon. Member for Chester. He thought a question of so great importance as the Business of the House ought to be dealt with as a whole by the Government, instead of being left to the fragmentary fancies—if he might say so—of different Members. If the House dealt with the question of the Business of the House in small scraps, as indicated by the string of Motions relating to that question, they would hopelessly complicate, instead of facilitating, the carrying on of the Business of the country.


said, he thought 40 or 50 Members sitting in the House could deal with this subject quite as well as any Committee sitting up-stairs. The Motion of the hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes) was a small step in the right direction.


said, after the House had been engaged five hours on one of the most important Bills of the Session, and after a short Recess the House was necessarily thin. About one-twelfth of its Members were asked to consider the important question of the future conduct of the Business of the House, and he believed that if the propositions on the Paper were adopted to-night, they would not approve themselves to the common sense of hon. Members tomorrow. On those grounds, he should vote against the Motion of the hon. Member for Chester.


said, the hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes) and the hon. Member opposite (Mr. A. Johnston) were both young Members of the House, and they had fallen into the trap which had been laid for them by the front benches. The hon. Gentleman opposite seemed totally to have forgotten the antecedents of this question. A few years ago the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) devised a plan, by means of a new arrangement of Morning Sittings, for further limiting the opportunities of private Members; but he was not present on this occasion. And the right hon. Gentleman who now led the House followed in the course begun by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire. In fact, it was the desire of every Government to limit the rights and privileges of private Members as far as they possibly could. He (Mr. Bentinck) protested against Members of the House getting up one after the other to air their own little crotchets without any attempt to deal with the whole subject in a comprehensive and satisfactory manner. The present Leader of the House moved last Session for a Committee to inquire into this matter. The right hon. Gentleman was able after that by a small majority to take away that constitutional right which every Member had of stating the grievances of his constituents before going into Committee of Supply. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who represented Her Majesty's Government on the Committee, proposed still further to curtail the rights of independent Members by preventing them from making Motions on going into Supply on Thursdays as well as Mondays. In such circumstances, and with the disastrous Resolution of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire in operation, what was to become of the rights of private Members? Her Majesty's Government would have no mo- tive whatever for keeping a House at the Evening Sittings, and without the Government no private Member could do so. Under all the circumstances, and considering the state of the House, he thought it would be improper to come to any determination on the question tonight, and he would, therefore, move the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Cavendish Bentinck.)


wished to show how the course of Business since 9 o'clock had altered the position in which the House stood. The hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes) made a very brief speech—two or three remarks merely—in support of his Motion. When the hon. Member sat down he (Mr. Gladstone) did not rise at once. He thought it his duty to wait until the subject had been discussed; but as no hon. Gentleman offered to address the House, when the Speaker was about to put the Question, he rose and made one or two observations. When he sat down various Members addressed the House, and a great many new points were raised. In the meantime, there was no one on the part of the Government to discharge the duty of speaking to those new points until he was rescued from his difficulty by the Motion of the hon. Member who had just sat down. It was obvious that the Motion of the hon. Member for Chester could not be adopted, and what was really wanted was a preliminary conversational discussion upon each of the propositions which had been placed upon the Paper, which could not be dealt with in set speeches, as the points involved were of a comparatively minute order, and could better be dealt with by a Committee than by the House itself. He had already pointed out that the Motion for adjournment was only one of the methods adopted for obstructing business, and did not touch the chief method. A large portion of the business of Morning Sittings, indeed, nearly all of it which was Government Business, was conducted in Committee; but the Motion of the hon. Member did not touch Committees at all. The analogous Motion in Committees to the Motion for the adjournment of the debate was the Motion to report Progress, or that the Chairman do leave the Chair. The Motion of the hon. Member, therefore, did not touch the peccant part of the proceedings, if there was a peccant part. But the fundamental objection to the Motion was that it assumed that all Motions for adjournment were necessarily factious, which was not the case; and if they were, the only result of carrying this proposal would be that a factious opponent would make his Motion a little earlier, and therefore cut off a little more of the time at the disposal of the House. But there were occasions where a minority were justified in pressing for an adjournment, or where an adjournment was wished for on both sides of the House; but if this Motion were carried—they would be placed in this preposterous position—that where every man in the House wished for an adjournment it would be impossible to adjourn.


remarked that it had been felt that the Business of the House had outgrown its forms, and the various Motions which hon. Members proposed to make on the subject must be taken as evidence of an earnest desire for a more practical discharge of Public Business. That being so, it would be rather hard if the discussion was not allowed to proceed, especially as the House was getting more and more full. The Prime Minister had spoken of a Committee as the best place for this discussion, and if the right hon. Gentleman would reappoint one, he would be perfectly content.


pointed out that to refer these questions to a Committee would be nothing more than proceeding in a vicious circle. When the Committee which sat before had reported in favour of certain Resolutions and the subject was brought before the House, when one of those Resolutions was adopted, the Government found that there was so much dispute about the others that they dropped them like a hot potato. And now it was suggested that another Committee should be appointed. But if that were done, any Resolutions that the Committee might adopt would come back to the House, where the greatest opposition would be offered to them; the same forms would be gone through as before, and the Resolutions would be suffered to drop. Only part of the proposal of the hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes) was being discussed; but the very next branch of that proposal would, if adopted, remove some of the objections which, had been urged. The former discussion upon the Government proposals had been suddenly terminated, and therefore hon. Members had a right to express their opinions upon the present occasion; and he should have thought that his hon. Friends the Members for Whitehaven and the University of Cambridge would have sustained, instead of attempting to stop this discussion. Their having been for five hours engaged in discussing the Scotch Education Bill was surely no reason why they should not now go on with the present discussion. If that were so, it would be better that there should be an end to the 9 o'clock Sittings altogether. He was surprised that hon. Members who pretended to be vindicators of the rights of private Members should place the matter upon such a footing.


did not complain of the 2 o'clock Sittings, but contended that after a five hours' debate on an important Government question, the House was by physical laws incapacitated at 9 o'clock from entering into other questions as important. The question was not one between the privileges of private Members or of the Government. The plain common sense was that the House was now neither in numbers, in good humour, nor in serious attention to business capable of discussing the matter before it. Such a subject should be the first Business of the night. The Government ought to give a night for it, and was seriously to blame for the burlesque of to-night through having tried to cram into one Session this and other subjects which there was no time properly to discuss. With a view to the dignity of the House, and in order that their proceedings might be wisely regulated by some of their best heads, and in an ample House, he should support the Motion of the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. C. Bentinck) for the adjournment of the debate.


said, he thought that the House violated all the principles of common sense, and all the rules for transacting Business by the way in which important matters were disposed of after 12 o'clock at night. This arose not from their being overcharged with work; it was only an attempt to prevent the action of independent Members. The system of sitting after 12 o'clock at night was framed for the deliberate purpose of carrying out, in spite of the House of Commons, the policy, good, bad, or indifferent, of the Government. Under such circumstances, it was impossible for independent Members to discharge their duty to their constituents. Those who remained after 12 at night were mainly the followers of the Government, or those who had particular interest in some of the Orders of the Day; and the system had never been so illustrated as it had been since the present head of the Government had been in office. No proper reports of their proceedings after 12 at night, were published; and he had intended to move that the editor of one of the journals—say, The Times—should be called to the Bar of the House, because they at that late hour gave what was practically a false report of the proceedings of the House. What was stated was that "the other Orders were disposed of." They knew how admirably the gentlemen of the Gallery discharged their duties; they were not responsible; but still the most important questions were raised, discussed, and decided at those hours when either those gentlemen were away, or when what took place could not be reported. When it was said—"the other Orders of the Day were disposed of," it was deceiving the public. If the newspapers were to say that they could give no report, that would be intelligible. Nothing could be more unconstitutional or inexpedient than their way of doing Business at late hours; and as to the supposition that their legislation, under these circumstances, represented the House of Commons, nothing short of the terms "fraudulent" and "false pretences" could characterize it. The debate had better be adjourned to enable the Government to take the subject into their consideration, and then appoint a time for its consideration when it could be properly discussed.


said, the House had drifted into a discussion of the subject from not attending to the Rules of the House for the transaction of ordinary Business. The present discussion was in some degree to be attributable to the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman as Chairman of the Committee which had charge of the Report, brought forward one of the Re- solutions adopted by that Committee for expediting the Ausiness of the Government; but from that time to this they had never heard one word of the other Resolutions that were agreed to by the Committee, and he suggested that it would be far better for the right hon. Gentleman to bring forward the remainder of the Resolutions, and for the House to discuss them, instead of debating the numerous Motions on the subject that were on the Notice Paper for that night, and also on the Order Book for discussion on some future occasion.


remarked that the fact of these Motions having been placed on the Paper was sufficient to show that the recommendations of the Committee were deemed insufficient, and no wonder they were so, considering how the Committee was constituted. It was a mistake to suppose that Members who had not sat in the House for 20 Sessions were incompetent to give an opinion on the question, especially when it was remembered that the older Members had gained their experience under a state of things which had been entirely changed by the adoption of household suffrage. He, therefore, hoped that if the matter were again referred to a Committee it would not be to the old one.


said, he thought the right course would have been to have had another Committee to go fully into the whole of that subject of the Business of the House, as was originally proposed at the beginning of the Session by the Government. He hoped that discussion might result in a real effort being made by the House to grapple with the difficulty which was growing upon them every day, and which could only be fairly and satisfactorily met by their having a complete scheme before them, instead of a series of isolated and fragmentary proposals.


said, he should not have pressed his own Motion relating to the Business of the House if the Government had persevered in their proposal to appoint another Committee on that whole subject. Many of the Motions standing on the Notice Paper for that and subsequent nights in reference to this question had never been brought before the Committee of last year, or considered by any previous Committee on the Business of the House. The present Motion for the adjournment of the debate was one really in derogation of the rights of private Members, and he hoped that the House would reject it.


looked upon what had passed that night as clearly proving that the proposal made at the commencement of the Session by the Government to send that entire matter before a new Committee was a right one, and that it was unfortunate they should have abandoned it at the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). Notices had been given of very considerable importance, which had never practically been considered by any Select Committee, and he rather thought this was one.


ascribed the whole of the difficulty in which they were placed to the extraordinary conduct adopted on that matter by the Government. That movement for the alteration of the Rules of the House had proceeded from the mistaken notion that what was required was more legislation at the hands of Parliament. For the last 40 years, however, the great curse of the country had been not a want, but a surfeit of legislation. The Committee which had sat upon this subject last year might with advantage be re-appointed, in order to more fully consider the whole matter; but he trusted the House would hesitate before it allowed this great question to be dealt with in the piecemeal manner in which it was proposed to trifle with it that night. He hoped the hon. Member (Mr. C. Bentinck) would save the House the trouble of dividing by withdrawing his Motion.


said, he thought the present Rules of the House with regard to Public Business worked very well indeed. It had been urged as a reason for not taking Opposed Business after 12 o'clock at night that the speeches of hon. Members were not reported in the newspapers; but he regarded that as an additional reason why Public Business ought to be proceeded with after that hour, because hon. Members would then make speeches to convince the House, instead of to be read by their constituents. He did not approve the Report of the Committee which sat last year to consider this question, because it appeared to him to be made in the interest of the Government and against that of private Members.


said, he thought it desirable that the whole question should be re-considered by a fairly constituted Committee.


submitted that the recommendations of the Committee ought to be considered by the House; and, if they were not adopted, he thought another Committee should be appointed.


said, his experience was that there was always more talking in the Morning and less work in the Evening Sittings. There was no occasion for appointing a Committee on the subject, because there was no information required respecting the conduct of the Business of the House. If the questions were relegated to a Committee, the Report of that body would find them just where they stood at present.


, as an instance of obstruction and delay, said, he had a Bill of his own in Committee on the 20th February, and where it was on that date it stood precisely now. The Government not only possessed the initiative of legislation, but also a power of putting a veto on everything that came up from independent Members, as was witnessed in the progress or want of progress of the University Tests (Dublin) Bill. In his opinion, it was not unreasonable to ask that private Members should be allowed the opportunity of carrying through measures of which they had a special knowledge.


said, he thought the great fault was with those hon. Members who wanted to ventilate their own opinions, and were much charmed with their peculiar powers of expression. He suggested that the progress of the Business of the House would be greatly facilitated if a rule were adopted that, except in the case of a Minister of the Crown or of an independent Member introducing a question necessarily involving a long statement of facts, the speeches of Members were limited to half-an-hour.


remarked that the whole question resolved itself into whether the House meant business or whether they merely meant to let off their superfluous steam. Until that cardinal point was settled they might appoint 50 Committees without any result.


said, he could not accept the proposition for adjournment. The Motions which he and other hon. Members had put upon the Paper were intended as Amendments to the Resolutions to be moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but no opportunity for their discussion was given. There had been a general expression of opinion that the old Committee should not be re-appointed, but that a new one should be named; and unless the Government gave a promise that should be done, or that a night should be given for the discussion of the Resolutions now on the Paper, he should take the sense of the House upon his Resolution, in order that hon. Members who came after him might be in no way prejudiced.


said, that the Government had brought forward one or two of the Resolutions of the Committee which assisted them in the conduct of their own Business, but they had neglected all the other recommendations. He thought it the duty of the Government to bring the other recommendations of the Committee before the House; and, unless they undertook to do so, he should support the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.


observed that it was quite evident when the Committee met that there were certain Members of it who were determined to carry out their pre-conceived opinions. He would suggest, as one way of getting out of the difficulty, that the Speaker should, in consultation with the Clerk at the Table, produce some programme for facilitating the transaction of Business, that this programme should next year be submitted to the House, and the whole or such portions of it adopted as might seem desirable.


said, that the Select Committee of last year was composed of Gentlemen of great experience and knowledge who were most entitled, on the whole, to the consideration of the House. They paid great attention to the subject, and made several recommendations. The Government considered those recommendations, and selected four or five which they proposed to the House, every one of which was in accordance with the evidence of the late Speaker and of their most able and experienced Clerk at the Table. The first step which the Government took this Session was to move that the Committee should be re-appointed to consider certain other important matters; but hon. Gentlemen of great weight and influence immediately got up and objected, and as no one rose to defend the proposal of the Government, and a great deal of opposition had been given, it was withdrawn. No sooner, however, did that happen than a number of Gentlemen got up and said they were entirely in favour of the proposal of the Government. Then the Government took a contrary course, and brought forward three propositions which the Committee had agreed to. One of these was with regard to the expulsion of Strangers; but the opinion of the House was so unfavourable that the Government withdrew their proposal, and the consequence was that on an occasion when most hon. Members regretted it—the debate on the Civil List—Strangers were taken notice of, and the reporters were obliged to withdraw. The second Resolution, with regard to Supply, was carried; but the third, which was entirely for the benefit of private Members, giving them time to assemble at the Evening Sittings, was for some reason or other refused. The Government, therefore, did not think it necessary to go further with the question. Of course, it would be easy enough to appoint another Committee; but until the House made up its mind that it could select a Committee to whose opinions it would be prepared to adhere, it would be a mere waste of time to appoint one. The recommendations of the Committee in this instance did not seem to have had much influence with the House, though they were made by men of experience and authority. The Rule as to Opposed Business after half-past 12 had been adopted, but that was supported by independent authority. As to the Business now before the House, it was quite evident that the House was not prepared to go into the question. He thought, therefore, that the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. C. Bentinck) was right in advising the adjournment of the debate until the House had made up its mind, and he should, therefore, certainly vote for the adjournment.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 90; Noes 63: Majority 27.

Debate adjourned till Tuesday 18th June.