HC Deb 15 July 1874 vol 221 cc3-13

in rising to move, "That the Orders of the Day, this day, be postponed until after the Order for the Adjourned Debate on the Second Reading of the Public Worship Regulation Bill," said, that in taking that course, he had followed a precedent which had been set by the late Government, acting under advice, in 1872, and which precedent he thought the present state of Public Business justified him in adopting. It might seem to some hon. Gentlemen, that the Motion to which he had asked the House to assent was an innovation and an interference with the privileges of private Members; but there could be no one who occupied the office which he had the honour to hold, who would be more reluctant to invade those privileges. He might, however, observe that the Bill in favour of which he was making the present Motion was one which had been introduced to the House by a private Member. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution.

Motion made and Question proposed, That the Orders of the Day, this day, be postponed until after the Order for the Adjourned Debate on the Second Reading of the Public Worship Regulation Bill."—(Mr. Disraeli.)


said, he did not wish to raise any factious opposition to the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. He had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman had adopted that course after due consideration, and in accordance with what he believed to be the general wish of the House. At the same time, he begged to enter a protest against the course about to be adopted, especially with regard to a measure which was not a Government measure. If hon. Members looked at the Orders of the Day, they would find down, in the name of a private Member, the Women's Disabilities Removal Bill, in favour of which Petitions signed by upwards of 400,000 had been presented. He was sure the advocates of that measure were anxious to ascertain the opinion of a new Parliament upon it, and it was rather hard that a measure, in favour of which so many people had petitioned, should not have been selected by the Government for the course of proceeding adopted now, rather than one which came before the House for the first time, and had as yet received so much less a share of public attention. He saw no good reason why that measure should be postponed till after the discussion on the Public Worship Bill; but he would not oppose the Motion. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, however, must understand that, in taking advantage of the assistance offered by the Government to carry the Bill through, he must expect on the part of the minority, that every clause and every line of the Bill would be discussed as fully as if it had been introduced at an earlier period of the Session. ["Oh, oh!"] With great respect to the hon. Gentlemen who constituted the majority, he must repeat that the minority would oppose the Bill, because they thought it was of too great importance to be discussed at that period of the Session; and the large number of persons affected by it, who had not been consulted before its introduction would not be satisfied unless it received the fullest consideration at the hands of the House.


said, he could not help expressing his surprise at the announcement just made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen). If every clause and every line of a Bill of such importance were to be discussed merely for the purpose of delay, he should like to know how Parliamentary Government was to be carried on. It was perfectly true that the Bill had been introduced by a private Member (the right hon. and learned Recorder), but then it came down to the House with the prestige of the highest authorities of the Church, and ought not to be put in the same category as a Bill for the removal of the disabilities of women, if anyone could tell what that meant. He hoped, therefore, his right hon. Friend would not carry his opposition to it, so far as he had declared himself prepared to do in opposing every clause and line contained in it.


said, that as one who had several Notices relating to Amendments in the Bill on the Paper, he must protest against the imputation which was conveyed in the language of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz), that hon. Members wished to oppose the Bill factiously. He had no intention of discussing every line of the measure, though he might have something to say on every clause, as he hoped to see that each would be fully considered, supposing the Bill got into Committee. He had observed before, and he now repeated the statement, that there was no time to deal with the Bill satisfactorily, and that it was inopportune; but if the House would insist on going on with it, he should not be prevented from endeavouring to make it as little bad a measure as possible. He should be wanting in proper respect to his Diocesan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, if he did not take that course, and, therefore, undeterred by what had fallen from the hon. Member for Birmingham, he would, whether it was the 5th or the 12th of August, whether it was hot or cold, go through the Bill as steadily and quietly in Committee as if it were February or March. He repudiated, at the same time, anything like factious opposition, and he could not sit down without expressing the gratification with which he had heard from the mouth of the hon. Member for Birmingham the announcement that one Archbishop was worth all the women of England.


said, he was surprised to hear it laid down that it was too late in the Session to discuss the Bill properly; because, if that were the case, it ought to be too late to discuss the six Resolutions which had been submitted to the House as the basis of a measure, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich ought not to have brought them forward at all. After the Resolutions were proposed, the Government were challenged to do what they had done, and, for his own part, he thought that it would have been discreditable to the Government and disgraceful to the House to have to run away from the discussion. So much, indeed, did he feel the importance of the question at issue, that if it were necessary to sit into September, or October, or even November, to pronounce an opinion upon it, the House, in his opinion, was bound to do so, rather than leave the subject in the position in which it now stood.


greatly regretted the expressions which had fallen from his right hon. Friend below him. The position which the right hon. Gentleman occupied on the front Opposition bench lent to what he said a greater importance than attached to what fell from hon. Members generally, and he rose for the purpose of protesting against the use of such language, and against its being supposed that the right hon. Gentleman represented in any way the sentiments of himself, or, he believed, of the great majority of those who sat on the Opposition side of the House. When the right hon. Gentleman announced that he would oppose every clause and every line of the Bill—


explained that what he meant to say was, not that any factious opposition would be attempted for the mere purpose of delay, but that every clause and every line ought to be discussed as fully as if the Bill had been introduced earlier in the Session.


failed to appreciate the difference; but, at any rate, he protested against his proposed line of proceeding, which was calculated to obstruct the passage of the Bill. Those behind the front Opposition bench could not be satisfied with such a course.


said, his right hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard talked about October and November, and, no doubt, all would agree that it would be better to take that course, and that they would submit to any sacrifice of time, for it was undesirable that so important a question as that under discussion should be left unsettled longer than was necessary. It would be as well, therefore, he thought, that the House should consider the work it had to do, and address itself to it without wasting its time in preliminary discussion. He was quite sure, he might add, that the words of his right hon. Friend near him (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had been misunderstood, and all that he meant to convey was, that the late period of the Session must not prevent the Bill from receiving the consideration which its importance demanded. For his own part, he (Mr. Forster) regretted the relation in which the House stood to the Government in regard to the measure. He thought it ought to have been a Government measure; but they having given facilities to a private Member to bring it forward in the first instance, it was their duty to endeavour now to persuade the House to afford every facility for its discussion; and it was, he thought, the duty of the House to support the Government in that intention.

Question put, and agreed to. Ordered, That the Orders of the Day, this day, he postponed till after the Order for the Adjourned Debate on the Second Reading of the Public Worship Regulation Bill.


, in moving— That the Standing Orders respecting the sittings of the House on Wednesdays be suspended, this day, until the Adjourned Debate on the Public Worship Regulation Bill shall have been disposed of, said, the object of the Motion was simply to secure to both sides of the House as ample a time as possible for a discussion of the measure. With reference to an observation that there were several important Bills of private Members—such, as the Women's Disabilities Bill—which the House ought to have an opportunity of considering, he would only say that by securing a decision to-day on the second reading of the Public Worship Bill, the present Motion would probably have the effect of giving hon. Members more time than they would otherwise have for the transaction of other Business.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Standing Orders respecting the sitting's of the House on Wednesdays be suspended, this day, till the Adjourned Debate on the Public Worship Regulation Bill shall have been disposed of."—(Mr. Disraeli.)


said, the question raised by the Motion was totally different from that which had preceded it. It involved the introduction of a precedent, which ought not to be allowed to pass without note or comment. During the 22 years that he had been a Member of that House no such proposal had ever been made. There was one solitary exception, but of so peculiar a character that it hardly deserved to be called a precedent. A similar proposal had been made, but it was on the 6th of August, when hon. Members urgently desiring to bring the Session to a close, assented to the proposal, in order that a certain measure might be passed through its various stages as quickly as possible. He had no sort of sympathy with the practices which had given occasion to the present Bill, but he was opposed to anything like straining the Forms of the House in favour of a measure which some persons looked upon as of a judicial, and still more of a penal nature. It was very undesirable to create martyrs, especially that kind of martyrdom now prevalent in this country, which might be described as picturesque rather than painful, since the subjects of it knew that nothing would happen to them but an expression of public sympathy on their behalf. He fully admitted that the Bill was of great importance, but he questioned whether it was one of such pressing necessity as to justify them in straining the Forms of the House.


pointed out that any discussion of the merits of the Bill would, on the present Motion, be premature and irregular.


said, he merely desired to show that the measure was one which could be postponed till next Session, it being one that would not be materially damaged by delay. If it were a Bill brought forward under very urgent circumstances—for the suspension of the Bank Charter Act, or for any matter of imperative necessity—the case would be very different. He believed that when it was thoroughly understood in the country that the House was in earnest in this matter, the irregular practices complained of would gradually die away.


earnestly appealed to the Prime Minister to reconsider the course he had decided to take on the present occasion, though he (Mr. Talbot) had no sympathy with any hon. Member who chose to obstruct the passage of the Bill by any of the artifices which were known to minorities. The only precedent for the present Motion was one which occurred on the 6th of August, 1872, when it was thought necessary to get a Liquor Bill passed before the Session closed. But the present case was altogether different as to circumstances. This was the middle of July, and not the beginning of August, and the step was proposed to be taken in reference to a Bill introduced by a private Member. The suspension of Standing Orders on Wednesdays involved what he might call the charter of the liberty of private Members. He had always considered that the stoppage of Business at 6 o'clock on that day was requisite to prevent physical exhaustion of hon. Members, who would not otherwise be able to carry on their duties during the other days of the week. Governments were not immortal, and the next one to that might find it convenient to press on the Bill of another private Member, and to do so on the basis of the precedent the House was now invited to establish. That was a precedent which the Conservative party might hereafter sorely repent, and his feeling on the question was so strong that though he was not prepared himself to divide the House upon it, he should certainly support any hon. Member who might do so.


again warned the House, as he had done on a former occasion, against making a precedent encroaching on the lights of a minority; the rights of a minority being the great feature of a constitutional, as distinguished from a despotic, Government. The rights of a minority were as sacred as those of the majority. The question they had to consider was, whether they were justified in suspending Standing Orders for the express purpose of limiting the speeches of the minority, for it was nothing more nor less than that? The right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Hardy) got up the other night and told the Prime Minister there was an objection to "Wednesday, because then the opponents of the Bill would have an opportunity of talking it out, and the answer of the Government to that was—" Oh, but we are going to suspend the Standing Orders for that day." He agreed with the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Talbot) that the Standing Orders were the charter of the liberties of the minority, and the House would incur great danger and bring discredit upon itself if it lightly assented to the proposal.


thought the time had arrived when they should ask the precise position which the Government took up in reference to the Public Worship Regulation Bill. Was the union between the learned Recorder and the Government an avowed union, or was it a morganatic alliance? If the latter, it seemed to him there was more favour shown for the offspring of the left hand than for the offspring of the right. He was, one of those who desired to see the Bill passed, and he thought all the difficulties to its progress would be removed if the Prime Minister would rise in his place and say that the Government accepted the full responsibility of the measure.


never understood that the rule of suspending Business at a quarter to 6 on Wednesdays had been established in order to secure to minorities the right to talk a measure out. Because it would come to this—that on one day of the week the minority were to have the constitutional right of defeating a measure by talking against time, and upon the remaining five days they were not to possess that right. The Rule for closing debates at a quarter to 6 on Wednesdays was adopted for the convenience of the House, and to save the health and labour of hon. Members. Before that rule was adopted, the House used to meet on Wednesday evenings just as on other days, and then there was no Rule as to stopping the debate at any particular hour. But there was no reason why these Standing Orders should not give way when such a course suited the House. Considering the time of the Session and the great interest felt in the Public Worship Bill, he thought that an occasion when there might very properly be a departure from the ordinary course of proceeding. He should therefore support the Motion.


agreed that the rule was established for the convenience of hon. Members rather than for the protection of the rights of the minority; but he submitted that the Motion of the Prime Minister was both unnecessary and unprecedented. It was dangerous to make a precedent of the kind, because it might be hereafter quoted in support of a proposal to suspend the Standing Orders on a Wednesday in the middle of June, or oven May. It was also unnecessary, because the number of hon. Members present being very few, the difficulty might be met by an appeal from the right hon. Gentleman to the forbearance of both sides of the House, so that the debate might be closed by 5 or 6 o'clock. The precedent now made in favour of a Bill proceeding from the Episcopal Bench in the other House, might even be cited at some future time in favour of a proposition of some private Member to turn those very Bishops out of the House of Lords.


also considered that the Motion was quite unnecessary. He had supported the proposal for the adjournment of the debate the other evening in order that a fair opportunity might be afforded to discuss the Bill, and not that any unfair advantage should be taken to obtain the decision of the House.


maintained that nothing but a matter of necessity would justify the Suspension of the Standing-Orders at that period of the Session. While, for his own part, he meant to vote against the Bill, he would certainly do nothing to prevent its passing by factious opposition. In order that the House might be in a position to decide upon the present Motion, it was essential that there should be a distinct, specific, and unequivocal intimation of the intentions of the Government with regard to the Public Worship Bill. If Government declared that they wanted the Bill to pass, the proposal to suspend the Standing Orders would be intelligible. If, on the other hand, they were going to be satisfied with a triumph over the right hon. Member for Greenwich, and were then going to allow the Bill to be quashed, this Wednesday would have been taken from private Members for no practical purpose, in so far, at all events, as the Bill itself was concerned. Let Government declare that it was their intention to do all in their power to pass the Bill this Session, and not merely to defeat the Resolutions of the right hon. Member for Greenwich, and then there would be a justification of the suspension of the Standing Orders.


thought that without suspending the Standing Orders they might trust to an honourable understanding that nothing would be done to prevent a division on the second reading that day. He was very desirous for the welfare of the Church of England, and he believed that if the question before them should be left in suspense, it would be most disastrous to the Church. He concurred with the hon. Member for Hackney in thinking that the House should get an exact statement as to the intentions of Government with respect to this Bill.


Although the Motion which I have made, Sir, has to a certain degree been based upon a precedent—and when there are precedents it is generally advantageous to be guided by them—yet I should not have hesitated under the present circumstances, and with the consent of the House, to make a precedent myself if requisite. I am perfectly willing, at the same time, to admit that Motions of this kind should not be made unless there is a very concurrent sympathy on both sides of the House in favour of them. On the present occasion I believe there is that sympathy, a large majority of both sides of the House being, as I understand, in favour of the course I have proposed. It has been suggested by the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) that be fore agreeing to the Motion the House ought to receive from Government a declaration of their sentiments with regard to the Public Worship Bill. Now, the proper time for the Government, or the various Members of the Government, to give their opinion is during the discussion upon the second reading, and I have no doubt that as the debate proceeds their views will be amply expressed. Some hon. Gentlemen have treated this Motion of mine as if it were a slur upon the honour of certain Members of this House. I have only one object in making the Motion. I consider that, after what has occurred, I am bound to secure to the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Public Worship Bill an opportunity of obtaining the opinion of the House upon the second reading. Therefore, whether the debate finishes to-day or not, with that conviction on the part of the Government that they are bound to obtain that result, I must find another day, in case we do not decide upon the present one. This is, then, merely an arrange-meat which I propose in order to advance the progress of Public Business. The various interpretations put upon my Motion have really no foundation whatever. I trust, therefore, the House will agree to the Motion, and allow the debate to be recommenced, and I have no doubt there will be ample opportunities for hon. Members on both sides of the House, as well as Members of the Administration, to express their sentiments on the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Standing Orders respecting the sittings of the House on Wednesdays be suspended, this day, till the Adjourned Debate on the Public Worship Regulation Bill shall hare been disposed of.