HC Deb 10 February 1873 vol 214 cc244-73

in moving— That, whenever Notice has been given that Estimates will be moved in Committee of Supply, and the Committee stands as the first Order of the Day upon any day except Thursday and Friday on which Government Orders have precedence, the Speaker shall, when the Order for the Committee has been read, forthwith leave the Chair without putting any question, and the House shall thereupon resolve itself into such Committee, unless on first going into Committee on the Army, Navy, or Civil Service Estimates respectively, an Amendment be moved relating to the division of Estimates proposed to be considered on that day, said, that the Order which he was about to move was the Order which was recommended by the Select Committee that sat the year before last. It had the approbation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, and it was agreed to by the House at the commencement of last Session; and he thought that the working of the arrangement during the Session must have commended it, on the whole, to the approval of the House. It had two objects mainly in view. The one was that hon. Members should know with certainty what the business was for which they were to come down in the evening; and the other was that there should be ample time for the discussion of the Votes in Supply. He thought that both of those objects had been answered, for the number of Votes that were passed in Supply was not much larger on the average at any particular sitting than was usual; and as a much longer time was occupied in the sittings, it showed that the financial business of the country must have been more thoroughly discussed. It had been sometimes represented that the Rule had been introduced for the advantage of the Government. But that was not actually the case—there wore very nearly the same number of sittings as usual in Supply, and the real difference, as far as they had at present ascertained, was that the sittings had been longer and the discussion of the Votes more thorough than before. At that there was reason to rejoice; and he hoped the House would see fit to allow the same Order to prevail in the present Session.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, whenever Notice has been given that Estimates will be moved in Committee of Supply, and the Committee stands as the first Order of the Day upon any day except Thursday and Friday on which Government Orders have precedence, the Speaker shall, when the Order for the Committee has been read, forthwith leave the Chair without putting any question, and the House shall thereupon resolve itself into such Committee, unless on first going into Committee on the Army, Navy, or Civil Service Estimates respectively, an Amendment be moved relating to the division of Estimates proposed to be considered on that day."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


rose to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice; and in doing so begged to assure the House that he had no wish to diminish in any way the facilities for the despatch of Business, and he would not have brought his Motion forward at this time if he could have done so at a later period of the Session with any hope of success. But if he failed to take advantage of this opportunity for bringing forward his proposal when another part of the subject was being dealt with, he would practically be shut out from any chance of raising the question which he desired to raise. He had no doubt that the Resolution passed last Session on the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had done much to facilitate the passing of Supply; but when the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the passing of Supply as the very core and kernel of the business of the House of Commons, he would beg to remind him that there were other duties equally important it had to discharge in the consideration of measures submitted to them, and other business of great consequence. And if they passed the Resolution now proposed by the Government, and ignored all other business, a hopeless state of confusion would, he contended, be the result, and the House would not be facing properly the difficulty which it had to meet, but would be merely passing, to use the language employed by the Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) last year, a stop-gap Resolution. If hon. Members would look back they would find that Lord Palmerston, when he brought the Resolutions of the Committee of 1861, of which he was a Member, before the House, stated that there was one point which should not be lost sight of, and that was the question of the free power of the representatives of the people to bring forward the grievances of the country before going into Committee of Supply. After referring to two functions of the House of Commons, the passing of laws and examining the Estimates and voting the Supplies for the year, he went on to say— But this House has another function to discharge, and one highly conducive to the public interests—namely, that of being the mouthpiece of the nation—the organ by which all opinions, all complaints, all notions of grievances, all hopes and expectations, all wishes and suggestions which may arise among the people at large, may be brought to an expression here, may be discussed, examined, answered, rejected or redressed. That," said the noble Lord emphatically, "I hold to be as important a function as either of the other two."—[3 Hansard, clxii. 1491.] The House, fortified by such an opinion, ought, he thought, to hesitate before they sanctioned the doing away with the power of which he was speaking to any material extent;—they should endeavour so to regulate the conduct of Public Business as to facilitate the transaction of the whole of it, instead of only a single portion. The Resolution which was now moved had certainly been recommended by the Committee of 1871, and had been put in practice last Session with success; but it should be remembered that there were many other points dealing with the business of the House, recommended by that Committee with the same object, which had not been put into practice, and which if adopted would in no way necessitate the restriction of what he looked upon as a great constitutional privilege. One of those modes was contained in a Resolution which was before the Committee of 1854, which was passed by the Committee of 1861, and was endorsed not only by the weighty evidence of Lord Eversley, but by that of the late Speaker and of those gentlemen who officiated so ably at the Table of the House. In the Resolution to which he referred it was recommended that when a public Bill had passed through a Select Committee, and had been reported to the House, the Bill, as amended, should be appointed for consideration on a future day, and, unless ordered by the House to be re-committed generally or in respect of some particular clauses, might, after the Report, be ordered to be read a third time. The late Speaker was of opinion that the adoption of such a course would relieve the House of a very difficult part of its business, which though sometimes done extremely well, was often done very carelessly: and Mr. Lefevre, before the Committee of 1854, expressed himself to the effect that he thought it undesirable that a Bill which had passed through a Select Committee upstairs should in all cases be subjected to the ordeal of passing through a Committee of the Whole House. Another point discussed before the Committee of 1871, which had also been discussed by every Committee which had sat to consider this question, was that the House should be divided into Grand Committees, to each of which should be submitted a certain class of business. Were this suggestion adopted, the despatch of Public Business would be greatly facilitated, and the proposal met the approval of all who had had experience in the business of the House. Another suggestion which had been laid before the Committee was that a change in the position of the Orders and Notices of Motion on Tuesdays might be made after a certain day—say the 1st of May—by which private Members who were sufficiently imprudent to introduce Bills on their own responsibility might be enabled to advance their measures. It had further been suggested that after the 1st of July in each Session, when it was clear that there would not be sufficient time for Bills introduced by private Members to be sent to the other House early enough for discussion, and when therefore it was hopeless to persevere with them, Government Orders should have precedence on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. With reference to morning sittings on Tuesdays or Fridays, it was notorious that owing to the want of a proper enthusiasm on the part of the Treasury benches for the legislation of private Members, they resulted in "counts-out" at the evening sittings, a result of which the latter might justly complain. These were all points which the House ought fairly to consider when attempting to deal with the important subject of reforming its method of conducting its business, and it would be a great misfortune were it, acting on the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, to confine its attention to the one point put forward by him, and to leave the others out of sight altogether. He asked the House to deal with this question as a whole, and not in patches. Hon. Members were sent to that House more to express the feelings and wishes of their constituents than simply to vote Supplies, and any reform in the conduct of the business of the House should be conducted with fairness, and not with the view of facilitating Supply at the expense of the former duties, as was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. He was aware that there were hon. Members who were anxious that there should be no step taken in this matter at all, and deprecated any reform which would have for its result the facilitation of business; but the view he (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) took of the matter was that the work, if possible, should be distributed more equally over the whole of the Session, and not driven off, as was the case last year, to the end of the Session, when the House was compelled to pass such ill-digested measures as called down upon them the well-deserved rebuke which the Lord Chief Justice had uttered a few days ago in commenting upon one of the most important Bills passed last Session. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to consider the best means of facilitating the despatch of Public Business in this House, and that the Reports and Evidence of the last three Committees on this subject be referred to it,"—(Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he regarded the question now under discussion as being of the greatest importance. It was now proposed on the part of the Government to repeat the experiment of last year, by which the old constitutional maxim that grievance should precede Supply was violated. That had been the old constitutional rule in former ages, and he saw no reason why it should be deviated from at the present day. Doubtless, he should be told that the business of that House had become more important, and that the work of legislation was vastly heavier now than it used to be, and that therefore it was absolutely necessary that some limit should be placed upon the right of private Members to put Questions to Her Majesty's Ministers on going into Committee of Supply. But, for his own part, he was disposed to doubt whether we did not legislate quite fast enough. The House had heard from a high authority that to pass one or two great measures in a Session was all that the Government could undertake to attempt, and therefore there was no reason why this enormous mass of Bills should be laid before the House Session after Session, only to be withdrawn as it approached its end. It was true that there might be Ministerial questions which were pressing for legislation; but it should be borne in mind that the matters equally pressing for discussion had much increased in number. When the principle was declared that grievance should precede Supply, we did not possess the vast colonial empire we now had; and on the first night of the Session the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire had told them that foreign questions ought to receive more attention than had latterly been devoted to them. If, then, private Members were to be deprived of the right of putting Questions on going into Committee of Supply, what was to become of the great colonial, foreign, and other questions which were continually cropping up, and upon which the country had a right to know the views of the Ministers, which could be elicited in no other way than by means of Questions on going into Committee of Supply? On one occasion, when he had put a Question to a Member of the Government, the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair had told him that he should put it on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply, in order to afford the Minister an opportunity of answering it at greater length than was convenient at the time of Questions. He referred to that instance with the view of illustrating the position in which private Members would be placed if the Rule proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to pass, under which private Members would be deprived of the privilege they now possessed of putting Questions on going into Committee of Supply. He was aware that the reply of the Government would be that private Members would have an opportunity of putting the Questions to which lie had referred on Friday evenings on going into Committee; and, further, that Tuesday evenings were devoted to private Members, who might then move Resolutions on any subject they thought fit. There were many questions, however, on which it was not desirable to move Resolutions, but as to which it was desirable to obtain information; and the best opportunity for doing this was on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply. He ventured to remind the House that when this matter was being debated early in last year the Prime Minister stated that the Government were bound to keep a House on Fridays, and that was perfectly true, because the Government would be unable to place Supply on the Paper for Monday nights as the first Order if the House were counted-out on Fridays, and therefore no counts took place on those evenings; but, on the other hand, the Government having no interest in keeping a House on Tuesdays, the House had been counted out five or six successive times on those nights. Thus the right of private Members to bring forward Resolutions on Tuesday nights became a mere shadow, and consequently, if they were to be deprived of their right to put Questions on going into Committee of Supply, a great inroad would be made on their privileges. For the greater part of the Session Tuesday and Friday mornings were in the hands of the Government, and private Members had only the privilege of bringing forward on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply on Friday evenings questions affecting most important interests both at home and abroad. For these reasons, he hoped the House would pause before it adopted the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


said, he was of the number of those Members who thought that one of the most important duties of the House was not simply to try what number of statutes they could pass each Session, but to discuss a variety of subjects—and amongst the variety of subjects for discussion none could be more important than the Estimates. This was, however, a task from which the House was rather inclined to flinch. He supported the Resolution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year, and he was prepared to support it again for the same reason. The reason which he gave last year for supporting it was not that he thought it was a Motion which facilitated the work of the Government—the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that night showed that he also felt that—his reason was that the effect of the adoption of the Motion would be that the House would really know when the Estimates were coming forward, and the Estimates would be more thoroughly discussed. The machinery of the House was clumsy and defective in this respect—that there was an absence of certainty as to what business would come on on any particular occasion. Without limiting debate by a gag law they could not insure that any Order of the Day or any Notice which stood after the first in the Paper would come on at a particular time. He had no disposition to introduce a gag law; but it was a reproach to the House, and rendered its rules useless and absurd if they could not ensure, at any rate, what would be the first Order or Notice to be brought on on any particular day. And they had that night two instances which showed how strongly the evil was felt. The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) asked early in the evening a Question—he (Mr. Dodson) thought with reference to this very Motion—which showed that he was pressed by the inconvenience of the uncertainty as to when it would come on. But they had just had a better illustration of the evil of uncertainty. The Home Secretary had that evening had recourse to a proceeding which he (Mr. Dodson) believed took the House entirely by surprise, and had introduced a debate for which they were not prepared. The proceeding was technically correct; but it was a very inconvenient proceeding, and one which he hoped would not be made a precedent. The hon. Member who had just sat down (Mr. R. N. Fowler) spoke very strongly of the constitutional privilege of bringing forward grievances before Supply, and alluded to ancient practices. Well, our ancestors did, no doubt, assert that principle, and insisted on grievances before Supply; but when our ancestors spoke of grievances, they had genuine grievances against the Crown, and said they would grant no Supply at all until their grievances wore redressed. But it was a gross exaggeration of terms for any hon. Member who had a theory to ventilate or a pet project to promote—such, for instance, as a proposal to make a new road across a Park—to insist on the old constitutional principle, in order that when the House was anxious to discuss the Estimates, and there was no question about granting Supply—he might come down and impede the progress of business by the introduction of some totally irrelevant question. In the name of common sense let them adhere to the rule that in the absence of any question of privilege or matter of extraordinary urgency, the question set down first should come on first. The hon. Baronet who had moved the Amendment (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) made one or two suggestions with regard to facilitating the progress of business in the House, and more especially the business proposed by private Members, and he alluded to the business on Tuesdays. It had always appeared to him (Mr. Dodson) that it would be a great advantage if the business of Wednesdays and the business of Tuesdays were transposed. If Tuesday night were made an Order night for private Members, and Wednesdays were set apart for the discussion of Notices, the Bills introduced by private Members would make more progress, because the time of the sitting on Wednesday was limited, and offered great facilities for talking them out. The hon. Baronet suggested that Bills that had passed through a Select Committee should be ordered to be considered without being passed through a Committee of the Whole House. That was worthy of consideration. It was an ancient practice of this House, as it was still of the House of Lords, not to put a Bill through Committee where not deemed necessary, but to omit that stage. He (Mr. Dodson) was, however, afraid that if the suggestion now made were adopted, they would have a discussion upon the question whether a Bill should be committed to the Whole House or not. The hon. Baronet had moved, as an Amendment to the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider the despatch of business. He (Mr. Dodson) was not sanguine of any good resulting from that course. At all events, he would suggest this to the hon. Baronet—that he should propose his Motion as a substantive Motion, and not as an Amendment on the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was recommended by a Select Committee. It was adopted last year by the House and had been tried. With all due respect to those Gentlemen who differed from him, he thought experience was in its favour, because it had facilitated a full and thorough discussion of the Estimates.


said, he was surprised that so high an authority on the constitution of the House as the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Dodson) had not taken a graver view of the question affecting the privileges of independent Members. He had compared the question of the constitutional source of Parliamentary Government with a question of making a road across a Park. But the question they had to discuss was whether the English House of Commons was to be or not to be an independent body. Was it to be a body called together merely for the purpose of recording the decrees of the Prime Minister, or to give free expression to the feeling of the country? He did not wonder that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had simply brought forward his Motion in a formal manner, because they knew that the Minister who really sought to reduce the House of Commons to the position of recording his dictates without discussion was the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. He was virtually the Mover of this Resolution—he was the real assailant of the rights and privileges of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman having been formerly a distinguished member of the Tory party had proved himself to be a true convert to modern Liberalism — he could combine in his own mind all the aspirations of the democrat with all the instincts of the despot; while upholding liberty of debate in theory, the right hon. Gentleman in practice would willingly restrict the debates here to a record of his goodwill and pleasure. Last year it was said that there was a conspiracy between the two front benches to restrict the privileges of the House of Commons. But in this instance he thought he could depend upon the vote of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli), who did not, however, at present appear to be taking any very lively interest in the discussion. He was sorry he could not attract the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, who in 1862, when a Motion almost identical with this was brought forward by the senior Member for Brighton (Mr. White), said— If you tamper with, and trench upon, the privileges which the House of Commons has hitherto enjoyed with so much advantage to the nation, you may ultimately find that you have raised throughout the country a spirit of discontent and of just dissatisfaction, which you will have much cause to regret, and much difficulty in allaying. What practical advantage, I ask, do you think can flow from priggish, pedantic, and petty attempts to deal with the Rules of this House?"—[3 Hansard, clxv. 157.] These were wise words, and he only hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not on this occasion gainsay them or resort to a practice which they had all unfortunately witnessed—that of disappearing behind the Speaker's chair when the time came for a division, and becoming "conspicuous by his absence." A good deal was said about the despatch of business; but it was possible to despatch too much business, and to do business with too much despatch. The Licensing Act was a proof that hasty legislation was not always good legislation. This was what the Judges had said of it recently. Mr. Justice Blackburn said— He should like to hear from the Members of the Legislature whether they understood what they were about when they passed the Act, and why they had not expressed their meaning in language which an ordinary individual at Petty Sessions might be supposed to understand. It was an Act wonderfully calculated to puzzle everybody, and one which operated most ingeniously in that way. The Lord Chief Justice said "he had never, during his judicial experience, known so confusing and puzzling an Act;" and Mr. Justice Mellor also de- scribed it as one of the greatest puzzles ever submitted to him, adding that he had only seen one other Act so badly framed. If this was the result of deliberate legislation, what might be expected from crude and hasty legislation? Yet the professed object of the present Motion was to expedite legislation. He could hardly conceive a more dangerous and ruinous expedient. It was difficult for the united and deliberate wisdom of Parliament to frame an intelligible Act, and hurried legislation must be of the kind described by some of the highest legal authorities of the land, and which the proposition before them, if adopted, would perpetuate. During the last few years measures had been passed through this House, which, if they could now be submitted to the country by the new test of the Ballot, would, in his opinion, be rejected by a large majority; yet the Government now asked the House to precipitate legislation, and to cease to give to measures the care and attention they required. Now, so far from trying to precipitate legislation, the first duty of Parliament was to put every possible obstacle in its way. He said so advisedly, for if a measure bore the test of discussion and argument, it would ultimately be carried, while if it had to be dealt with hurriedly it ought not to be carried. But there were other and stronger grounds for opposing this Motion. The very basis of constitutional government was to be found in the maxim, grievance before Supply. The British Constitution—which the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) declared he had never seen—was founded on the principle that the Crown had no right to go to Parliament and ask for Supply until every Representative of the people had had an opportunity of stating the grievances of those who had sent him to Parliament. The right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. S. Walpole), speaking on this point in 1862, had enforced the importance of maintaining the unwritten law and usage of the House of Commons, which prescribed that on all occasions when the Government desired to have money voted for the use of the Crown, the unofficial Members should be entitled to put any Question to the Government, to submit any point, to suggest any grievances that might require remedy, and to have such assurances from the Government as would prevent the Session being closed before the points raised had received attention. He appealed to hon. Members below the gangway opposite, for whose talents and consistency he had the highest respect—a compliment he could not pay to every quarter of the House—to remember these words on going to the lobby, and also to ask themselves what reply they would make to their constituents when they inquired what had induced them to barter away the rights and privileges of the Commons. Nothing could justify the sacrifice they were asked to make; nothing could compensate for the right of every Member of the House of Commons to have a full, free, and fair opportunity of expressing the grievances of the Commons before proceeding to vote money to the Crown.


always listened with respect to the right hon. Member for Sussex (Mr. Dodson). His thorough knowledge of the usages, and of the past and present practice of the House, entitled his opinion to every consideration: he therefore could not conceive what had induced him, despite his profound knowledge of the history of Parliament, to support the proposal of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the necessity for stopping Supply by a statement of grievances was now at an end, as there were no grievances to justify such a proceeding. If the proceedings of the times of Eliot and Holies were not likely to recur, the principle for which they fought was as important as ever; and the right hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that even in their day men could have been found in the Court party ready to declare that the people had no grievances sufficient to justify a denial of Supply. He thought, then, the House of Commons was not justified in surrendering its power or opportunity of independent expression. The Government's chief argument in support of this proposition was their desire to secure Monday for Supply; but it had always been held important to have the Monday entirely free to provide for the discussion of any event of importance which might have occurred since the rising of the House on the Friday night. He could not help thinking the privileges of unofficial Members had already been sufficiently curtailed. When he first entered the House, Members were able to speak for any length of time even on the mere presentation of a petition. That, no doubt, was absurd; but they might go much too far in the other direction, and might unduly limit that free expression of opinion which was of the very essence of their Constitution. It would also be remembered that as they held no sittings on Saturday or Sunday it might often be especially necessary that private Members should have the power of initiating a discussion on any important event that had occurred during the interval between Friday and Monday. The encroachments of the Government must be watched with the greatest jealousy, and this was one which should not be entertained for a moment.


Although I had last Session a doubt whether it would be advisable that the House should institute another inquiry on the subject of Public Business, the experience of the last Session fully convinces me of the necessity for some such inquiry if it were for no other purpose than to satisfy the House that its Business has not been conducted in a manner consistent with its dignity. For what do we find? We find the highest judicial authorities declaring that the measures passed last Session for effecting great constitutional changes in our electoral system, and that our legislation touching social questions, such as the employment of labour, and the regulation of public-houses at the end of the last Session; that all these measures are imperfect and unsatisfactory. I, Sir, am fully conscious of this, that the truth lies deeper; that if in any Assembly like this there is a want of public spirit, a want of independence, and a want of self-respect, such an unfortunate state of things is not to be cured by the appointment of a Committee. It will only be cured by the action of public opinion, or by that Assembly finding itself outraged beyond endurance by some other power. I regret to say, that from the manlier in which this subject—that of the Business of the House—has been treated in this House, I fear that the predominance of party feeling has much to do with the mischief, and that if the Leaders of the two parties choose to coalesce on any subject, as matters have stood, the House of Commons is virtually helpless. Now, what has been done? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) supported the Chancellor of the Exchequer in carrying this Resolution through the Select Committee of 1871, though certainly not by a large majority, for they had a majority of only 1. But this affords an illustration of the effects of a combination on the part of the highest officials past and present in curtailing the privileges of the private Members of the House, and of the House itself. They were last Session successful, and the House of Commons, towards the close of last Session, assented to this curtailment of its privileges. There is now but one additional reason why the House should now hesitate in again yielding its ancient privileges. This reason is, that the proposal is made at an earlier period of the Session than it was last year. If the House of Commons no longer values its privileges, no longer feels competent to use them as its predecessors have done, it is time that the House should abandon its privileges. But I agree with the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Dodson), who spoke so ably this evening. I think there are other arrangements, or re-arrangements, beyond the proposal now before the House, which ought to be contemplated, and might be sifted by a Committee. As the hon. Gentleman observed, what an illustration have we had to-night of the want of order in this House! Why, Sir, in our Books the question connected with the Public Parks stands for discussion to-morrow; but through a manifest irregularity committed by the Home Secretary in proceeding without Notice to make a Motion that was not formally on the Books, the Business which stands on the Books of the House for to-morrow has been taken to-day. Who can hope for regularity in the conduct of Business under such circumstances as these? It is understood that there is a certain period at which Notices are to be given. The Clerk at the Table calls for the Notices; and on the very first day of the Session—I have a note of the occurrence here—Minister after Minister rose in his place before the Clerk at the Table called the Notices, and gave their Notices in defiance and in total disregard of the order of the House. After the Petitions, and before the Clerk at the Table called the Notices of Motion, the Prime Minister rose and announced his intention to bring in the Irish University Education Bill; the President of the Board of Trade rose and announced that he would bring in a Bill on Railways and Canals; the Home Secretary rose and announced that he would bring in Bills for the Amendment of the Criminal Law, and would lay upon the Table the Rules relating to the Parks; and the singular fact is this, that he gave written Notice that on Monday he would ask leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Act for the Prevention of Crime, but gave no written Notice that he would also lay upon the Table the Rules to be substituted for those which now regulate the Parks. The Home Secretary entered his Notice with respect to the criminal law on the Books; but he entered no Notice, which appears on the Books or Paper, of his intention to bring the subject of those Rules under the Notice of the House to-day, and yet he rose in his place to-day to open a question which stands in our Books on the Notice of another Member for discussion to-morrow. Sir, if right hon. Gentlemen the official Members of this House, treat the Rules of the House with such total disregard, then, indeed, it is impossible that the order of our proceedings should command respect, and it is not surprising that our legislation is confused. From the manner in which this subject of its Public Business is treated by the House, was treated by the House last Session, and is treated by the House now, I fear that many Members on either side of the House have so completely delegated not only their political powers, but their political consciences, that there does not remain independence of feeling and intellect enough in the House to maintain for itself the Rules and privileges which our predecessors have vindicated and asserted for centuries. If there is this weakness; if there is such a tendency to delegate our powers—and what an illustration of the abuse of that principle of delegation we have had in this very Parks Act, which occupied our attention so irregularly at the commencement of the evening; if this House has got into the habit of delegating its functions, first to the leaders of parties and then to subordinate officials, until they become practically the legislators for this country; if this House, after having virtually overruled the independence of the House of Lords, is content thus to delegate its functions and sacrifice its independence by violating and abandoning the Rules by which our predecessors vindicated their independence and raised the intellectual standard and position of this House, we must continue to sink in the estimation of the highest authorities of the law; we must continue to sink in public opinion, until at last the House will have to lament the utter loss of those privileges which its predecessors so successfully used and so earnestly maintained. Meanwhile, there are many questions which the House would do well to have submitted to a Committee. I shall, therefore, certainly vote with the hon. Baronet the Member for West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson).


said, that he should be glad, if it could be done, to vote both for the Motion and for the Amendment. He thought that the Resolution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a reasonable and necessary one; he also thought that the Business of the House might amply be discussed by a Select Committee; indeed, he was not sure but that such a Committee might well meet every Session, and that its labours and suggestions would be highly advantageous. If, however, the hon. Baronet the Member for Essex did not succeed with his Amendment, he would not be able to get his Committee until late in the Session—if even then. If the Government would consent to the Amendment, or would undertake itself to propose a Committee, he should be contented; if not, he should certainly vote for the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Essex.


said, he was glad to find at least one independent Member on the benches opposite, and also glad to find that he hailed from the same country as himself. He had watched the course of the debate with great surprise. The question was not a party one; indeed it was one which affected those who wore supposed to monopolize the legislative ability of the country—namely, the Liberal side of the House—more than it did hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches, and yet it was almost exclusively—in fact, with the exception only of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson)—from the latter part of the House that it was challenged. He did not know whether the Government had expected that the Resolution was going to pass without any resistance, but it appeared to him, from the way in which they had dealt with the question, that they had made up their minds to force it down the throat of the House, as if they knew—to use a phrase which the Prime Minister had once employed in reference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the "sort of people they had to deal with," and were acting accordingly. Looking at the question as it was brought before them last year and as it had been brought now, he could see nothing in the conduct of the Government to inspire them with confidence. Earlier in the evening he had asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer a plain and civil question not to bring on a question so important in a House of a few Members. This request was answered very shortly, he would not say uncourteously, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and but for the accident of the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson), the Resolution would have been slipped through in a House of about 20 Members. Only that morning he looked at the Votes to see how the question had been treated by the Government last year. The Government announced at the meeting of Parliament that having considered the subject during the Recess, they had determined to move for a Select Committee upon Public Business. That Motion was brought on upon the 8th of February; but the Motion having been opposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, was withdrawn. The Government had then no proposals to make; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer that very night placed on the Notice Paper the three Resolutions which he subsequently tried to move. They were put down for Friday, the 23rd; but on the previous night he put down four more Resolutions to be moved, making seven instead of three. When the Resolutions came on for discussion, one only—that relating to Committees of Supply on Monday—was carried in the teeth of a similar Amendment to the present, moved by the hon. Member for West Essex, and then the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer "scratched" his six other horses. Was there anything in the course taken by the Government last year on this question to inspire confidence on the part of the House this Session? His own feeling had been so strong on the point that if there had been any hope in the then present state of parties he would have a second time challenged the decision of the House upon this Motion; but he knew that the mechanical majority was such that it was hopeless to appeal to the feeling of independence among hon. Members on this matter. This one Resolution, moreover, was carried by a majority of 32 in a House of 272 Members, and the substantive Resolution by a majority of 40 in a House of 224 Members. Before, however, any great changes were made in the Forms and Orders of the House, they ought to be carried by general assent and agreement, and not by small majorities of this kind. If the precedents were referred to it would be found that any changes of similar importance had always been carried by general assent, and by majorities that showed no doubt as to the wish of the House. In 1861 a change introduced by Lord Palmerston was carried by a majority of 253 in favour of the change to 98 against it. Such changes should not be smuggled through the House when there was hardly anybody present. The House had had some experience of the working of this Resolution, and had there been in that experience anything to make it attractive to the non-official element in the House? For himself, he had found its operation to be so intolerable that he had given notice of his intention to oppose it if it were again brought forward. He had himself been entrusted with a grievance, not relating to an individual, but a class—the officers of the Army. A Resolution had been handed over to him by his gallant Relative (Colonel Anson), who had been prevented by illness from being in his place. From March to July lie waited in vain for an opportunity to bring forward this grievance; and it was only at last, at the very close of the Session, that he could find the opportunity he desired. When such cases arose they were usually much prejudiced by delay. Moreover, when they were brought forward at the very end of the Session, the discussions were not reported, very few Members were present, and it might be said that judgment went by default against those who had grievances to complain of. The late Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Dodson) had thrown ridicule over the maxim that grievances should precede Supply, by saying that our ancestors were interested in this old constitutional rule, but that we were not. But where would he draw the line when he defined who were our ancestors? The Select Committees of 1854 and 1861 had both reported strongly in favour of keeping this right of stating grievances in the hands of Members. Sir Erskine May, in his work on the Forms and Proceedings of the House, had fully described this ancient constitutional doctrine, and the practice which had grown up in consequence of allowing every description of Amendment to be moved before going into Committee of Supply. Another voice, no longer heard in that House, was raised before the Committee of 1861. Viscount Ossington, whose present illness every Member of that House must deeply regret, but whose absence did not render his opinion of less weight, being asked with reference to curtailing the expression of opinion on the part of Members, said—"It is not so much restraint that we want as order in the arrangement of Business." That order in the arrangements was wanted, especially on the Treasury bench, his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had abundantly shown. His hon. Friend the late Chairman of Ways and Means had stated, however, that what was really required was a certainty of particular measures coming on. As regards Supply hon. Members had had an opportunity of estimating the value of this certainty, for he happened to be a good deal in the House during the course of the Army Estimates, and he knew from personal observation that there were very few Members in the House when the Estimates were being discussed; nor did he think that number was greatly increased last year by the so-called "certainty" of measures being brought on. The Government were proposing to take from the House of Commons a privilege which its Members had heretofore enjoyed. It was alleged that the progress of Public Business would be thereby facilitated; but if the non-official element in the House found itself in the intolerable position it occupied last year, did the Government think it would succeed in the object aimed at by their proposal? The infallible result would be that private Members would act as they did last year. Take his own case as an example. Finding it was impossible to bring for ward his Motion, he discovered a plan of saying in the discussion of the Estimates everything he wanted to say. [Hear!] Yes, but in a different way. He gave Notice that he would move the reduction of the salary of the Secretary of State for War by £2,000 a-year, as that Minister was responsible for everything connected with the Army. On the Votes of the salaries of the Secretary of State, the Financial Secretary, and the Surveyor General, hon. Members might hang any number of pegs and delay the course of Public Business. The ingenuity of independent Members would have recourse to this mode of making their grievances known, and the Government would not facilitate the transaction of Public Business as they hoped to do by taking away the privilege of free speech from the House. The choice of the House lay between the Resolution which the Government hoped to force down the throats of hon. Members, as they did last year by a majority of 32, and the Committee proposed by his hon. Friend the Member for West Essex. That there had been a block of Public Business he fully admitted, but believed it was the result of mismanagement. As the Amendment suggesting a Select Committee had been proposed, he would advise the House to negative the present proposal simply; but, as the question involved was of the highest importance, he trusted that no stop would be taken without deliberate inquiry, and that, above all, care would be taken, if a Committee were appointed, to obtain the nomination of a fair Committee. Hon. Members owed it to themselves to see that they were no longer dealt with as they had been. It was no mere official question—the danger was that Members who had been in office, or who hoped to be in office, looked more to the official management of business than to their duty as representatives—and it was the duty of independent Members to see that their privileges were not curtailed. The value of the House of Parliament as a mere legislative machine was as nothing compared with its value as a means of expressing public opinions and public grievances. This it was which had made the House of Commons an example to foreign nations. He hoped that the House would continue to afford a ready means for the free expression of the thought of a free people.


said, that his right hon. Friend the Member for East Sussex (Mr. Dodson) had used the words "common sense;" now he (Mr. C. Bentinck) wished that the Government had not been guided more by common sense in regard to this subject; for had that been the case, the House would never have heard of the Resolution now proposed for its acceptance. The first thing "common sense" would suggest was, whether there was any ground for such a Resolution at all. As a Member of the Committee which investigated this question the year before last, he heard all the arguments then advanced, and listened to certain allegations made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Members of the Government, all of which had been successively contradicted. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had the audacity—if he might use the word—to say that this was not a constitutional question; but this allegation had already been amply refuted by Members sitting on that side of the House. Then his right hon. Friend the Member for East Sussex had said it was not proper that small questions should be raised in the manner which the Resolution would put a stop to. It ought, however, to be remembered that in times gone by independent Members had abundant opportunities of bringing questions before the House. They were at liberty to speak on Petitions, for instance, and they had Thursday to themselves. But the constitutional right of "grievance before Supply" was the only one now left to them, and they must either maintain that, or else become subservient to the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer changed his opinions very often, and lie hoped he should make him change his opinion on this subject before he left his place to-night —though this would be a task of considerable difficulty, because, as a rule, the right hon. Gentleman only changed his opinions when he changed his bench. It had been stated, in support of this Resolution, that it was absolutely necessary to take away the right of making Motions on going into Committee of Supply, because the Government would not otherwise be able to get through the Business of the Session. Now, on this point lie had obtained from the officials of the House statistics as to the time really consumed by unofficial Members of the House, and therefore taken from the Government. The grievance complained of by the Government was in 1870, and the Return he had obtained had reference to that and the preceding year. In the Session of 1869, before the 15th of July, there were only eight nights on general Supply on which Amendments were proposed by unofficial Members. Of these only three nights were occupied by Amendments which had not reference to the division of Estimates under consideration. One of these was moved by his hon. Friend the Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth) on the constitution of the Board of the Treasury; the other, which occupied two nights, was brought forward by the junior Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), and related to the case of the Queen against Overend. No one could deny that these were questions of vast public importance which might be properly brought before the House as grievances before Supply. In the Session of 1870 there were only seven nights on which Amendments on general Supply were moved; and only one Amendment was moved which had not reference to the discussion of Estimates afterwards about to be considered —namely, that proposed by his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), respecting the exclusion of reporters from the House. Therefore, in the last two Sessions only three Motions had been made on general Supply which did not relate to the subsequent division of Estimates, and the time of the Government had been profitably occupied by those questions which were of an urgent nature. As regarded Motions which referred to the actual Estimates on the Paper, it was clear that their discussion before the Speaker left the Chair was a saving and not a loss of time; for under such circumstances Members could only speak once, and a vote could be taken thus directly. If their Resolutions were carried, Members challenging the policy of Estimates on principle would not be shut out, but would be compelled to ask the sense of the House upon a feigned instead of a real issue, a result in Ids (Mr. C. Bentinck's) opinion greatly detrimental to the dignity of their proceedings, and entirely opposed to common sense. He was sure, therefore, that if "common sense" was allowed to operate on the minds of hon. Members opposite it would induce them to vote against this outrageous and monstrous proposition. It was said that without this Resolution there would not be time for the Business of the Government; but they had the full benefit of it from February of last Session, and yet, instead of taking advantage of it, they took Votes on Account, and occupied time with sensational legislation, instead of bringing on the Estimates. On the 9th of July the head of the Government took the whole time of the House by moving that Government Orders should have precedence; and then the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Torrens) asked hon. Members whether they were going to surrender their independence, and spoke of business being transferred to Downing Street, and of the House becoming merely an instrument to register the decrees of the Government. Several hon. Members were then obliged to abandon their measures for want of time to discuss them, and to those Members he now appealed to think twice before they followed the Government into the lobby in support of this Resolution. Let them remember that the independence of the House was gone unless it had opportunities of expressing its opinion on questions which arose suddenly. In addition to the infringement of their right, he had already pointed out their privileges had been further restricted by the institution of Morning Sittings. Morning Sittings would begin in June, or perhaps at the end of May, and when they began the rights of private Members were lost. Members who were exhausted by sitting from 2 o'clock to 7 o'clock could not attend to Public Business after 9 o'clock at night. In 1862, after Lord Palmerston had carried the Resolution by which Thursdays were transferred to official Members, and by which the Motion for Adjournment was taken away and Supply put down on Friday instead, the senior Member for Brighton (Mr. White), proposed a Resolution identical with this; Lord Palmerston and Sir James Graham opposed it, and the former said— It would not, I think, be fitting that a bare majority should impose restrictions on the conduct of the business of the House, which a large minority might regard as being inconsistent with constitutional principle."—[3 Hansard, clxv. 161.] These words might have some influence on Members on the Ministerial side of the House; and the main support constitutional and conservative opinion could have in the House was the independence of the House itself, wherefore he believed Members on the Opposition side of the House would be entirely hostile to the principle of this Resolution.


Sir, it is with some trepidation I rise to answer the arguments that have been adduced, not so much on account of the intrinsic weight of them as from this reflection—that if the Motion I have submitted were carried out it would have the effect of preventing the hon. Members for Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck) and Whitehaven (Mr. C. Bentinck), and the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) addressing the House so frequently as they have been in the habit of doing. When I remember the House is fresh from hearing the speeches of the noble Lord and the hon. Member, I confess I fear it may be carried away by terror lest it should not hear them again, and that hon. Members may go contrary to their honest and sincere convictions rather than run the risk of such a deprivation. I must take the liberty of disregarding a great deal of their speeches, because, to say the truth, it was not relevant to the subject before the House. This Resolution has nothing to do with the legislative power of this House, because, whichever way it is decided, the time alloted to the House for legislation will be precisely the same. The question we have to deal with is whether a certain portion of time shall in future be devoted to hon. Members to make speeches which are to be followed with no immediate result—that is, to state grievances—or whether it shall be given to the consideration of that which, after all, is the original and principal duty of the House of Commons —the careful investigation of the public expenditure. That is the whole question we have to decide. Therefore, I take the liberty of saying that a great deal that has been said on other subjects is absolutely and purely irrelevant. This question may be argued in different ways. It may be argued on authority —as it has been, there being quoted against me Lord Ossington and Sir Erskine May, who are, in truth, the two principal witnesses on whom I rely in asking the House to renew this Motion. But the House is asked to appoint a Committee to investigate this question and any other changes that may be proposed. I am no enemy to Committees of the House for these purposes; but when a Committee has made a strong recommendation, and it has passed through a year's experience without giving rise to cavil, if it is to be put aside pending inquiry by another Committee, such a practice will be singularly inconsistent, because the only use of a Committee is to inspire the House with so much confidence in its recommendations that they may be carried out. If you markedly disregard the strong recommendations of a Committee which have been tried with success, what hope can there be that the recommendations of the proposed Committee will be carried out? This is not like a technical and abstruse subject, which hon. Gentlemen may not like to look into for themselves, and on which they may willingly defer to those who have devoted time and attention to it. The Rules and Orders of the House are matters which press upon us all, and which we all form an opinion upon every day. Therefore it is natural—and I do not say it in a tone of complaint—that when an influential Committee comes to a conclusion on such a subject the House should be apt to disregard the recommendations of the Committee, and to judge the matter for itself. I confess it does appear to me, unless the House will defer to the opinion of the Committee it may appoint, a matter which cannot be found out beforehand, it is absolutely a great waste of time and trouble to appoint one at all. Men of the highest eminence must compose these Committees if they are to have any effect on the House; but if their recommendations come to be invariably set aside, it will be impossible to get gentlemen of eminence to give to these inquiries the time necessary to arrive at a satisfactory result. These are difficulties—I do not say they are conclusive—against referring the matter to a Commitee, but they are well worth the consideration of those who wish to see an improvement carried out in the conduct of our Business. It seems to me, as the House will no doubt ultimately take the matter into its own hands, and without regard to what a Committee may recommend, it is better to make the proposition before the House than to go before a Committee. But be that as it may, that is not the real question before us to-night, because the hon. Baronet the Member for West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson), as I understand, does not allege that he has anything to say against my Motion, but he proposes to supersede it by a Committee. He is one of those persons who would burn down my house in order to roast his own pig. I cannot help thinking it is a great pity the question of a Committee was introduced at all. The two subjects are quite distinct. As has, indeed, been pointed out by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), the one does not exclude the other. Many hon. Gentlemen may be in favour of both. But, having made that remark, I must say I think the best course, with a view to the reform of our Rules and Orders, would be to vote for that which, in this instance, was the recommendation of the Committee, and to consider, as a separate question, the Motion for a Committee when we go into the matter at large. What we proposed to do was, more than anything else, to give certainty to the House as to what should come before it; and that advantage I should say we entirely attained. That was no slight advantage, for what was the state of things which existed previously. Hon. Gentlemen put down a number of Questions, which sometimes remained on the Paper a very long time, because there was no sufficient inducement for them to come down to the House and bring them on. But those whose duty it was to answer the Questions had to attend whenever Supply was on the paper, in order to have the chance of answering them. I have myself been 12 or 15 times in that unenviable position—and let me inform the House that is no slight inconvenience to those whose time is not their own, and who have other important duties to attend to. But it is said that, after all, last Session we did not advance much more rapidly with Supply than before. That is quite true. We took longer time in the discussion of the Estimates, but we discussed them much more satisfactorily. The Votes were looked into much more narrowly, and the House in that respect asserted a duty, by carefully watching and criticising the expenditure, quite as important as hearing the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Whitehaven. The particulars as to the progress made in discussing the Estimates are rather curious. In 1865 the average number of Votes passed in Supply per night was 11; in 1870, the number was 8; in 1871, the average number was 10; and in 1872 it was 9 only. Did we gain nothing by that? I think we gained a great deal. My own experience satisfies me that the result has been that more attention was paid to the subject. You have to look to the pockets of the people as well as to their liberties, and the grievances of the pocket are, I apprehend, quite as pressing as any other so-called grievances which there is no lack of opportunity for bringing before the House. What I have proposed was recommended by a Committee of great authority. It has the concurrence of the head of the Government, of the leader of the Opposition, and of other gentlemen of the greatest weight and authority. It has been tried without the suggestion that it had failed, and, being moved in the same terms as last year, I trust the House will not go back, but enable us to apply to the finance of the coming year the same scrutiny we applied last year.


could not admit that the arrangement last year had been successful. By the arrangement of last year hon. Members were prevented from taking part in criticising the Estimates, because they were uncertain what Votes would come on, in consequence of the Votes not being moved in the order in which they were placed on the paper. The Civil Service Estimates, especially the Superannuation Vote, had passed through the House with scarcely any observation. He was not disposed to offer any factious opposition to the Government, but although he had supported the right hon. Gentleman last year, he could not support him now.


said, he had given Notice of an Amendment to the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which he thought the House should dispose of simultaneously—probably the House did not fully perceive the effect of his asking to have the word "first" struck out—but in truth the words as they now stood gave them nothing whatever. His second Amendment related to "Opposed Business," and he should move its omission. He also thought they were entitled at the commencement of the Session to have the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government on the question that no fresh Opposed Business should be proceeded with after half-past 12 o'clock. On this point a somewhat ominous piece of paper had been put into the hands of nearly every Member; it bore at its head the somewhat misleading title of "the privileges of private Members." It stated that there was a general feeling in the House against this proposal, which it was hoped would be encountered by the most strenuous opposition. If any hon. Gentleman intended to oppose the proposition, it was only right that the House should hear the view taken of it by Her Majesty's Government. Hon. Gentlemen who had charge of a particular measure were apt to think of no other business but their own; but those Gentlemen ought to recollect that other Members were obliged to wait in the House until late hours to watch those measures. The officers of the House also were obliged to wait, and there should be some consideration shown to them. Why should not the House put into operation in its own favour the nine hours movement, of which the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) was so great an advocate? Some might say that they should adopt "the double-shift." and that they should have another gentleman to share in the duties of presiding over their deliberations, two Chairmen of Committees, two First Commissioners of Works, each with perhaps a different set of Park Rules, and so on. He did not wish to make any particular reference to the late occupant of the Speaker's chair; but he would say that this was not a moment at which they should lightly regard the onerous duties which they imposed on those who served them in this House. Hon. Gentlemen might rest assured that legislation would not be facilitated by carrying it on to extreme hours. A strike would be produced; not a strike against a larger "output" of legislation, but such a strike as had led been for years by the late Mr. Brotherton. It would be found that adherence to unlimited hours would produce a movement in favour of early closing. In these days when so much importance was attached to the operation of a free Press—especially by hon. Members opposite—he begged to point out that it was strangely inconsistent that they should practically be sitting in camerâ, and virtually discussing measures with closed doors.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 148; Noes 78: Majority 70.

Main Question put, and agreed to. Resolved, That, whenever Notice has been given that Estimates will be moved in Committee of Supply, and the Committee stands as the first Order of the Day upon any clay except Thursday and Friday on which Government Orders have precedence, the Speaker shall, when the Order for the Committee has been read, forthwith leave the Chair without putting any question, and the House shall thereupon resolve itself into such Committee, unless on first going into Committee on the Army, Navy, or Civil Service Estimates respectively, an Amendment be moved relating to the division of Estimates proposed to be considered on that day.


said, that with reference to his Resolution, "That no fresh Opposed Business be proceeded with after half-past Twelve of the clock ante meridiene," so far as he could gather the Government were disposed to accept the principle of his Motion in the shape of a Sessional Order. He should, therefore, for the present leave the matter in their hands. If, however, he found that they did not, on consideration, take the initiative, he should bring the subject again before the House.


hoped it would not be understood that hon. Members were bound to accept a proposal which he, for one, believed would tend greatly to lengthen their debates.


observed, the Motion not having been made, there was now no opportunity of speaking on it. So far as the Government were concerned, they were perfectly willing to consider the subject on that or any other night. At the same time, he thought it very likely that the hon. Member had exercised a wise discretion in postponing the Motion till another night, when the general mind of the House might be directed to it.