HC Deb 22 March 1872 vol 210 cc533-5

said, he wished to appeal to Mr. Speaker on a point of Order arising out of the debate on Tuesday evening—if the word "debate" was properly applicable to the proceedings on that occasion—and his reason for asking the Question was, that an important precedent would be set as to future proceedings were the course followed the other night to be approved. Three successive Motions for counting the House were then made within 10 minutes by three hon. Gentlemen from the other side of the House. Now, if from these 10 minutes were deducted the six minutes during which the sand was running out in the glass on the Table, it would be seen that only four minutes remained during which the Motions were made, so that practically they followed each other in uninterrupted succession. On examining the printed Rules of the House on this subject he found them to be as follows:— If it appear, on Notice being taken, or on report of a division of the The House by the Tellers, that 40 Members are not present, Mr. Speaker adjourns the House, without question first put, till the next sitting day. The doors of the House are unlocked whenever Mr. Speaker is engaged in counting the House. He presumed that the first of those Rules was adopted to protect the public against important legislation being proceeded with in the absence of an adequate attendance of Members; and that the object of the second was to enable any Member who might be in the Library or other parts of the Building, to enter the House during the two minutes allowed for the purpose. He wished to know whether it was within, not the letter, but the spirit of those Rules, that an hon. Member should move that the House be counted, merely because it was possible that sufficient Members might leave the House in the short interval which would elapse before the actual counting took place, to reduce the number present below the quorum? There was another Rule which said—"After prayers, Mr. Speaker counts the House, and if 40 Members be present, he takes the Chair." Now, it had always been the custom of the predecessor in the Chair of the right hon. Gentleman, and of those, he believed, who went before him, as well as of himself, that if it was perfectly obvious that more than 40 Members were present at prayers they did not deem it necessary to count the House, but took the Chair without doing so. He wished to know whether, that being so, it was not within the discretion of Mr. Speaker, when, as on Tuesday last, there were beyond all doubt a far greater number than 40 Members present in the House, to take no notice of any hon. Member who might suggest that the House should be counted? He would also venture to ask the right hon. Gentleman, Whether it was in accordance with the spirit of the Rules he had just read that hon. Members should in succession make Motions to count the House, regardless of the numbers present; and, whether that might be done from 5 o'clock in the afternoon even to the time of cockcrowing, to the obvious waste of the time of the House?


The hon. Gentleman says the Motions to count were all made by Members on this side; but I beg to remind him that the first of these Motions was made by an hon. Member who sits on the same side as himself.


said, what he meant was, that every time Mr. Speaker's attention was called to the state of the House the hon. Gentleman who called attention was sitting at the time on the opposite benches.


In answering the Questions which have been put to me by the hon. Member, I think it right to remind him that the proper time for raising a point of Order and appealing to the Chair, is the time when the question arises, and not at some future period. I will, however, to the best of my ability, reply to the Questions which he has put to me. I have to state that, according to the Rules of the House, any hon. Member is entitled to take notice that 40 Members are not present; that the Speaker is bound to act upon that notice, and that no discretion is left him in the matter. When the House meets, and it is obvious that there are 40 Members present at prayers, it has been usual for the Speaker to take the Chair without counting; but if any hon. Member takes notice that there are not 40 Members present the Speaker has no discretion, and is required by the Rules of the House to proceed to count. I am sure, however, that the House will feel that if an hon. Member insists on having the House counted when it is full, it can only be done with the object of interruption and delay, and is an abuse of the Rules of the House.


The hon. Gentleman quoted from a small book which is to be found in the Library; but I would remind the House that the rules which it contains are not the Rules of the House, except as far as they express that which is its custom and practice. The book itself is not a book which can be quoted as an authority.

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