HC Deb 09 February 1875 vol 222 cc199-209

, in rising to move the following Resolution:— That, except for a Money Bill, no Order of the Day or Notice of Motion be taken after half-past twelve of the clock at night, with respect to which Order or Notice of Motion a Notice of Opposition or Amendment shall have been printed on the Notice Paper, or if such Notice of Motion shall only have been given the next previous day of sitting, and objection shall be taken when such Notice is called, said, it was identical, in every respect, with one which obtained the sanction of the House in the Sessions of 1872 and 1873, and which received its form principally at the hands of the late Prime Minister. Last year he (Mr. Heygate) proposed its re-adoption, and it was carried, but with an addition suggested by the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), who, it appeared, was going to bring forward a similar Amendment on the present occasion. That addition, in his (Mr. Heygate's) opinion, interfered very seriously with the salutary operation of the Resolution, and he trusted the hon. Member would be induced to alter his determination. It was not necessary to repeat the history of the circumstances which led the House to adopt in 1872, the Rule which he now again proposed. He would only remark that, previous to 1871, the uncertainty experienced, especially towards the end of the summer, as to what business might or might not occupy the attention of the House at a late hour, and the unseemly contention which sometimes resulted from the attempts made by hon. Members to force forward at an advanced period of the night, Bills of an important character, which encountered serious opposition, had pressed themselves more and more upon the attention of statesmen, and had, in fact, rendered it necessary that something should be done to remedy the evil and remove the scandal. Night after night hon. Members had to tramp incessantly through the Lobby, on divisions alternately for an adjournment of the House and for an adjournment of the debate, with the object of putting off Motions, the discussion of which could not properly be commenced at a very late hour. This state of things led to the appointment of a Committee, which sat in 1871, and considered the question very carefully. That Committee, which was composed of men of all parties, and included the Members who were admittedly best acquainted with the Business of the House, came to a conclusion which went a great deal further than the Resolution now submitted. By 15 votes against 4, it recommended that no fresh Opposed Business should be proceeded with after half-past 12 o'clock. The four dissentients differed from the other Members in so far only that they desired to make the hour 1, instead of half-past 12. At the instance of the late Prime Minister, the Resolution proposed by the Committee was modified, when it came to be discussed in the House of Commons, to the extent of exempting from its operation all Money Bills, and of restricting its application to cases where Notice of opposition had been given in the Notice Paper. In that form, the Resolution was, in 1872, unanimously carried, and it worked exceedingly well. The following Session it was again adopted, this time not unanimously, but by 191 votes against 37. Last Session, on its being submitted for the third time, the hon. Member for Swansea, as he had before observed, succeeded in engrafting upon it an Amendment, exempting from its operation all Bills which had passed through Committee. Perhaps many hon. Members were hardly aware of the effect of that alteration. Whereas the Resolution in its former form put a stop to the commencement of discussion of opposed Bills after half-past 12 o'clock at four stages—namely, Second Reading, going into Committee, Third Reading, and Report—it now had that effect at two stages only. He was quite unable to understand on what principle the alteration was based. If there was any reason whatever for preventing fresh Opposed Business from being entered into after half-past 12, it was applicable as much at any one of the stages to which he had referred as at the others. No one could say that the Third Reading and the Report were unimportant stages. He would not detain the House further in proposing a Resolution which he had every reason to hope would be assented to. The practice of going on with new opposed legislation after half-past 12 at night was inconsistent with common sense, with the health of Members, and with the dignity of their proceedings. Practically, nothing that was said in the House after that hour was reported. It was no fault of the gentlemen who so well did their work in the gallery above that it was so, for it was well known that the newspapers had to be printed at an early hour of the morning, in order that they might be circulated all over the country. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.


said, he felt much pleasure in cordially seconding the Motion of his hon. Friend opposite, as he did last year. In the last Parliament they had seen what confusion prevailed when 40 or 50 Orders stood on the Business Paper, and hon. Members did not know which of them would be proceeded with. The difficulty was felt to be so great that the House was compelled to adopt the Resolution which his hon. Friend had moved that night. The relief thus given enabled hon. Members not only to obtain a moderate amount of sleep, but spared them the necessity of having to take part in those unsatisfactory and even unseemly proceedings which many of them remembered to have occurred night after night. He was sure that the divisions which had been taken at the small hours of the morning, not in twos or threes, but in eights or tens, or more, did not conduce to the respect due to their deliberations, while the legislation passed by hon. and weary Members after half-past 12 could hardly be well-considered, or be likely to prove beneficial to the country. It would, therefore, contribute to the order as well as to the usefulness of their proceedings if they adopted a rule which had been found necessary and which had worked well. The form in which his hon. Friend had proposed the Resolution was the best one for the House to adopt, for the simple reason that they all knew many blots in a Bill often had to be corrected after it came out of Committee and when it was being considered on the Report. He believed that these words, which fell from the late Speaker, were well deserving of the attention of the House—namely—"It is better that there should be free discussion on all the subjects brought before this House than that there should be rapid legislation;" and he was satisfied that free discussion, fairly reported by the Press, would produce better results for the country than any amount of sleepy legislation after half-past 12 o'clock. He felt sure that if Members of the present Parliament could have seen what took place in the last Parliament they would cordially adopt the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, except for a Money Bill, no Order of the Day or Notice of Motion be taken after half-past twelve of the clock at night, with respect to which Order or Notice of Motion a Notice of Opposition or Amendment shall have been printed on the Notice Paper, or if such Notice of Motion shall only have been given the next previous day of sitting, and objection shall be taken when such Notice is called."—(Mr. Heggate.)


said, his hon. Friend said the only effect of the rule as to the Business of the House which he had moved would be to stop, if the House thought proper, the taking up of any new Business after half-past 12 o'clock. It would, he (Mr. Dillwyn) believed, do more than that; it would give to any hon. Member who was opposed to a Bill the power to prevent its further progress by simply giving Notice of a Motion against it upon the Paper. In one point he agreed with the Resolution—he did not think that new Business should be taken after half-past 12 o'clock; but when a Bill had made a certain amount of progress, and when the House had endorsed its principle, it might to a certain extent be considered the property of the House, and he did not think that any hon. Member should have the power to stop its further progress, as the Motion would do. If they adopted such a rule, they would have to sit later in the year. He now proposed to add to the Resolution the rider adopted last year—" Provided that this rule shall not apply to any Bill which has passed through Committee of the House," and his wish in making such a proposition was to get the whole of the business of the country done in a satisfactory manner; while, on the other hand, if the Resolution were passed in the form proposed the Business would, he thought, be carried out in a far from satisfactory manner. He last year, with the concurrence, and he might almost say the suggestion of the Prime Minister, had succeeded in carrying that rider, and it had, he believed, worked highly satisfactory, and therefore he trusted it would still remain on the Orders of the House. With that object in view, he begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice. If some such restrictions were not adopted this year, the result, he was afraid, would be that the House would be compelled to sit until September instead of adjourning in August, as he for one desired to do.


said, he seconded the Amendment, as being necessary to give private Members a fair chance of proceeding with measures which they had introduced into the House. He disclaimed having any personal interest in the matter, because not having had the honour of a seat in the House until after the age of 50, he had from the first determined not to embark in so arduous an enterprise as that of bringing forward any Bill. But although he did not belong to the class he could see their hardships, and he wished to ask in what position would the proposal of the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Heygate) place those Members without the addition suggested by his hon. Friend? Even when the Bills of such Members had struggled against long odds through all the previous stages and passed through Committee, it would be in the power of any hon. Member to prevent the passing of the Bill by simply placing a Notice of opposition on the Paper. The whole of the previous labour and consideration might in that way at the close of the Session be thrown away. He hoped the addition would be agreed to.

Amendment proposed, To add, at the end of the Question, the words "Provided that this rule shall not apply to any Bill which has passed through Committee of the House."—(Mr. Dillwyn.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Reading (Sir Francis Goldsmid) had appealed to the House as if the proposal of the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Heygate) was an innovation. The fact was that the proposition of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) was the innovation, considering that the original proposition had been carried by both sides of the House, and acted upon for several Sessions. He believed that if the hon. and learned Baronet had had as much Parliamentary experience as himself he would have taken a different view of the means at the disposal of private Members to push their Bills. The question, which was debated on the supposed rights and wrongs of private Members, was really whether or not the whole comfort, decency, and dignity of Parliamentary legislation should be sacrificed to the possibility of a step or two more being taken with measures which everybody knew had no chance of becoming law. At present that useful institution, the Wednesday, gave every private Member the most ample opportunity, without let or hindrance, of preaching his sermon and expounding his scheme. Some of these measures, by a process of "natural selection," commended themselves to ton. Members generally, and when that was the case they were either directly or indirectly taken up by the Government, and little difficulty was found in passing them, particularly now, when the barriers of partizanship were so broken down, and when measures intended to benefit the people were sure to meet with a favourable reception on both sides of the House. A measure of that kind would be passed, if not in one Session, at any rate in the succeeding one. Then there were Bills which might be classified as the idiosyncracies of single Members of the House, or of small cliques. The individuals or bodies who had charge of such measures were among the greatest tyrants known to the House, for by persistently pushing their Bills forward at any and all hours they might possibly commit the House to some absurd or extravagant proposition. They knew their Bills could not become law, but, in defiance of common sense, they persisted in their courses, and because one man or a few men were obstinate, some 50 or 100 others had to remain in the House until late or rather early hours in order to prevent useless and, perhaps, hurtful measures slipping through. That was a state of things which would not be tolerated in any country other than England. It certainly would not in Prance, where in the crisis of a revolution the National Assembly could go on meeting at 2 o'clock in order to catch the 5 o'clock dinner train from Versailles to Paris. He did not recommend that as an example, but, in the face of the fact that many hon. Members were engaged in Committees from noon until the sitting of the House, he thought common sense ought to convince reasonable men that from noon till 4, and from 4 till half-past 12 was a sufficiently long sederunt, or, at any rate, was a period at which the House could claim to have reached an hour when the class of Business to be proceeded with during the rest of the night should be regulated. It must be remembered that it did not stop current questions, and that money Bills, the large category of Bills in Committee, and all as yet unopposed Business were excepted from the proposal before the House, which in fact only suggested that a selection should be made at half-past 12 out of the various classes of measures still to be considered. The proposal now made was adopted on the re- commendation of one of the strongest Committees ever appointed in that House, and was approved by the late Lord Ossington—who was for some time Speaker of the House, and whose memory hon. Members all so deeply respected; it had been shaped as now proposed by the late Prime Minister—a man who never spared himself or any-one else when it was a question of work; and it had had the effect of lifting the House out of the barbarism of four or five Sessions ago into a state of comparative civilization. No one who had taken part in the persistent divisions, sometimes lasting on into the daylight of the summer mornings, in order to defeat useless and harmful measures, could help feeling something of shame for the part he took, but under the weak and defective system then in existence no other course was open. He hoped the House, therefore, would give a further trial to the new system which had worked well up to the present time.


said, that when the report of that debate was read, the public would feel some surprise that no explanation was given of why it was that the House adopted a method of doing business which was totally with-out precedent. He therefore hoped some Member of the Government would explain the reasons which existed, if there were any, for transacting Parliamentary business during hours which were not adopted in the Legislative Assemblies of other countries, and which were altogether different from those devoted to other businesses in this country. The effect of the present system was disadvantageous to independent Members, but convenient for the Government, and that he supposed was the reason why the system had grown up and been perpetuated.


thought people out-of-doors did not care much at what hours business was transacted, provided it was transacted. He should vote against the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea, that he might also vote against the original Motion. He should do so on the ground that the obvious result of passing either of them would be to prevent unofficial Members from carrying measures in that House. The hon. Member for Swansea himself acknowledged that his Motion was an invasion of the rights of private Members; and if it were to be adopted it should be in the shape of a Standing Order, and not by a mere Resolution of the House proposed by an individual Member. The most important business transacted by the House for many years had been transacted after half-past 12. The greatest speeches had been delivered after half-past 12, and as an ordinary rule the House was fuller at half-past 12 than at any other time, except, per-haps, when an interesting question was brought on at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. He would suggest, as a means of saving time, that the number of speakers be divided by three, and that their speeches be similarly reduced. If the Motion were carried without the Amendment, it would be impossible for an unofficial Member to carry a measure through its final stage, although the House might have approved it on the second reading, and have thoroughly discussed its clauses in Committee.


said, he was of opinion that there might be some advantage in the observance of uniformity and consistency in the proceedings. He, therefore, thought the proposed Amendment would effect a very reasonable compromise between the views held by different Members upon the subject. No doubt, the opinion of an overwhelming majority of the House was that opposed measures should not be taken after half-past 12. That he quite admitted; but the new rule had been diverted from its original object, and in the hands of some hon. Members had been the means of successfully opposing Bills which otherwise would not have met with any serious opposition. It was quite obvious that although a Member might not have much to say against a measure, he might very effectually oppose it simply by putting on the Paper a Notice of his opposition to it. When a Bill had passed the important stages of Second Reading and Committee, he thought the rule suggested by the hon. Member for Swansea should be acted upon. It was somewhat unreasonable that one solitary Member should stop a Bill on its final stage, simply by giving notice of opposition, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would assent to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Swansea, and stand by the rule of which he had himself approved last Session, and which had been adopted by a large majority of the House.


said, that if he stood by the rule he had always advocated he would not be in favour of the Amendment. He was a Member of the Committee on Public Business to which allusion had been made, and supported the principle that no new Business should be brought on after half-past 12—indeed, he was not quite sure that he did not originate the Motion himself. He thought the principle was a sound one, though in practice it might have been abused. He was not aware that it had been abused; but the same objection applied to any other arrangement that might be made in an Assembly like the present. The principle had been acknowledged to be sound by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, and it was the general feeling of the House that it was right. In all matters of this kind he (Mr. Disraeli) would consult the feelings of the House. There were no political or moral principles involved in the arrangement, and, therefore, on a question as to the management of their business, he thought the Government, as far as they could, ought to adopt the opinion of the majority of the House. Last year the Notice of Motion was brought forward by the hon. Member for Leicestershire under novel circumstances. A change of Government had taken place, and the conduct of Public Business involved different feelings on the part of hon. Members on the Treasury Bench to those which they had in Opposition. He was then of opinion that it would be better to modify the Motion, and that a trial ought to be given to the modification proposed by the hon. Member for Swansea. He could not say that he was satisfied with the working of the modified principle, for, in point of fact, it had never come into practice. Beyond that, he had become acquainted with the existence of a considerable amount of dissatisfaction among hon. Members who wished for a recurrence to the old rule, and he thought the modification of the rule would be rather an advantage to the Government, and was influenced by that consideration in agreeing to it. It did not signify much, he thought, whether the Motion was carried with or without the addendum. He did not think it would affect the length of the Session 48 hours. He had, however, come to the conclusion that the Motion of the hon. Member for Leicestershire was most in accordance with the wishes of Members, and therefore he should support it.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 49; Noes 91: Majority 42.

Main Question put, and agreed to. Resolved, That, except for a Money Bill, no Order of the Day or Notice of Motion he taken after half-past twelve of the clock at night, with respect to which Order or Notice of Motion a Notice of Opposition or Amendment shall have been printed on the Notice Paper, or if such Notice of Motion shall only have been given the next previous day of sitting, and objection shall be taken when such Notice is called.