HC Deb 19 February 1875 vol 222 cc575-93

in rising to move the first of three Resolutions, of which he had given Notice, as follows:— 1. No Notice of Motion for leave to introduce a Public Bill, other than a Bill to be introduced by or on behalf of Her Majesty's Ministers, or a Bill brought from the House of Lords, shall be held to be sufficient, unless copies of such Bill have, three days previous to such Motion being made, been deposited in the Public Bill Office, or unless the Notice contain a description of the means or method by which the object of such Bill is proposed to be effected, said: Mr. Speaker, I have on former occasions ventured to call the attention of the House to the subject, to which the suggestions contained in the Resolutions relate. The House has, on several occasions—twice, I think, during the present Parliament—expressed an opinion that it is not advisable to appoint another Committee upon the Public Business of the House. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government, when a proposal was made by the late Government that a Committee on the Public Business of the House should be appointed, expressed in very marked terms the opinion, that it was better that the House should consider any specific suggestions for the improvement of its procedure that might be submitted, before considering the appointment of another Committee. I trust, therefore, I shall be acquitted of presumption if. I venture to make some suggestions to the House. I have for this purpose given Notice in the form of three separate Resolutions, and I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will treat them seriatim. The first Resolution suggests, that the House should adopt means to revive its former practice of exercising its discretion and its judgment upon Motions for leave to introduce Bills. The habit of admitting all Bills that may be proposed has become so general, that it is now thought to be discourteous to the hon. Member who asks leave to introduce a Bill, if leave be not granted. I do not mean that this practice is invariable, because on a recent occasion, in the case of a Bill which I myself proposed to introduce, a division was taken upon the Motion for leave to introduce it. At that time I remember saying that the practice had become so unusual as to be almost discourteous; but I never disputed the regularity of that course, though it was a proceeding much disused. In my opinion, a great part of the objects of the Motion which the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) has just submitted to the House, would be accomplished by the revival of the practice that the House should and will exercise its judgment on Motions for leave to introduce Bills; because I have known too many in- stances in which leave has been granted for the introduction of a Bill, and yet no Bill has made its appearance for three weeks or a month after leave was granted; and upon inquiring in the offices of the House I have been informed that no manuscript had been delivered. It was perfectly obvious, therefore, that some hon. Members had obtained leave to introduce Bills without being at the pains of framing their proposals in such a manner as to render them worthy the consideration of the House before permission to introduce them was asked. Again, Sir, I am sorry to say that in the present Session there have been instances of the House having granted leave for the introduction of Bills early in February, and upon leave being granted the second readings were postponed until very distant days, in one case to a day so distant as the 7th of July. Surely, it must be obvious that a Bill in that position has little, if any, chance of being passed, and that by occupying such a place in the Order Book it stands there merely as an obstruction to proceeding with other Bills. But, Sir, I do not suggest that the House should revert exactly to the former practice, which was to require an oral statement from every hon. Member who might propose to introduce a Bill; so that there should be in all cases a previous statement, antecedent to the statement of the principle of the Bill on the Motion for the second reading. The first Resolution which I suggest is, therefore to this effect—that copies of the Bill, either in manuscript or in print, shall be deposited in the Public Bill Office three days previous to the Motion for leave being made, so as to be accessible to hon. Members of the House; or, in the alternative, if such deposit be not made, that the Notice for leave to introduce the Bill shall contain not merely, according to the present practice, a statement of the title and object of the Bill, but a statement also of the method or machinery by which the hon. Member moving for leave to introduce conceives that the object or objects of the Bill may be attained, because many Bills are introduced into this House almost without any machinery at all. The House is asked to read the Bill a second time—to sanction the mere object of the Bill, for the principle of its action is scarcely indicated, and then to hammer out for itself in Committee provisions for carrying into effect the object of the Bill. Sir, that, to my mind, manifests a failure on the part of the hon. Members who introduced the Bill; they do not show that they have given such adequate consideration to the matter as would enable them not merely to suggest the object or objects for attainment, but to suggest to the House, probably after obtaining good advice, the means by which Parliament may effectively legislate on the subject, should it see fit to do so. The House will find that the Select Committee which sat in the year 1871 adverted to the object of this my first suggestion in their 6th Resolution. That Resolution was moved by Sir John Pakington, and with the permission of the House I will read it— That Members, who desire to move for leave to bring in Bills, "without making any explanatory statement, may give Notice of their intention to make such Motion at a quarter-past four of the clock on some future day, and then may make such Motion on such day, in the manner and at the time of making Motions for unopposed Returns, and leave shall be given for the introduction of such Bill without debate, provided no Member then objects thereto. That is a recognition by the Committee of 1871, that the practice of introducing Bills without explanation had prevailed to an extent which they could not approve; the Committee therefore unanimously and very properly proposed to interrupt the custom of introducing Bills without explanation, to remove from the individual Member all semblance of a privilege or right to introduce a Bill without making a statement, and for this purpose the Committee proposed to recognize the fact, that the use of that privilege is entirely at the discretion of the House in each case. Such is the intention of that Resolution. I come next to the main difficulty which the practice of bringing in Bills without an adequate exercise of discretion on the part of the House has occasioned; during the last three Sessions of Parliament this has produced a perfect block of Orders, of stages of Bills entered on the Order Book. The House will find that although the non-official Members of the House have not so much as one-third of the time of the House, they have in the course of each of the last three Sessions introduced as many measures as the Government, to whom it has been the pleasure of the House to allot full two- thirds of its time; and yet, difficulty enough is experienced by every Administration in passing a fair proportion of the Bills they introduce, although they have had two-thirds of the time of the House at their command, and all that power of combination which every Government must possess. Under such circumstances, it is simply absurd to expect that any large proportion of the Bills introduced by the non-official Members of the House, and which have been equal in number during the last three Sessions to the Bills introduced by the Government, should pass and reach the House of Lords. I say it is absurd to expect that non-official Members can pass any large proportion of this number of Bills. Some hon. Members have affirmed that these Bills embody merely the crotchets of individual Members, and that they do not contain matter which is really worthy of the attention of the House with a view to immediate legislation. I cannot deny that there is some justice in such comments; but I would ask, Mr. Speaker, whether this is not in itself a lax practice which ought to be restrained; restrained by the exercise of the discretion of the House; a discretion, the exercise of which, I humbly submit, is essential to the maintenance of the character of this House as a Legislative Assembly, essential to prevent the Order Book from being overcrowded by crude, ill-digested proposals. But this state of the Order Book is not only a misfortune, so far as the credit of the House is concerned; it goes beyond that. Among the large number of Bills introduced by the unofficial Members of the House, there are some which the House has willingly sanctioned on the second reading; but owing to the crowded state of the Order Book, especially after Whitsuntide, it has become morally impossible to carry out the intentions of the House, as expressed on the second readings of these Bills, by sending them up to the House of Lords in time to receive its approval. I have stated that the Order Book has been blocked, and with the permission of the House I will read two short calculations—rough estimates—to show that I am not misleading the House as to the manner in which its time has been distributed during the last three Sessions. I find that in the Session of 1872 the House sat 120 days, and that the average time of its sitting was 8 hours and 33 minutes per day. In the Session of 1873 the House sat 112 days, and the average time of its sitting was 7 hours and 50 minutes per day. The following Session in 1874 was exceptional. There had been a change of Government, and, practically, the House left its legislative business to a considerable extent in abeyance, until the present Ministry should have had the opportunity of duly considering and of bringing forward the measures they contemplated. In the Session of 1874, then, the House sat 97 days, and the average time of its sitting was 7 hours and 20 minutes per day. How was the time of the House distributed? I will take, first, an average week in the ordinary course of proceeding, when the House meets at 4 o'clock on four days in the week, and on Wednesday at 12. On Monday, a Government day, 8 hours; available for opposed Orders, 7 hours. Tuesday, Notices of Motion and unofficial Orders, 8 hours; available for opposed Orders, 3 hours. Wednesday, unofficial Orders, 6 hours; available for opposed Orders, 5½ hours. Thursday, a Government day, 8 hours; available for opposed Orders, 7 hours. Friday, Notices on Supply and Government Orders afterwards, 8 hours; available for opposed Orders, 3 hours. The average for the week is, therefore, 38 hours; of which 25½ hours were available for opposed Orders, and 8½ hours for unofficial Orders. Thus the Government had 17 hours in the week available for Opposed Business, while unofficial Members had 8½ hours. But the House will bear in mind that a great change has been introduced by the adoption of Morning Sittings, which have commenced sometimes so early as the 27th of May, when not much more than one-half the Session has elapsed. What, then, is the state of things as to time during the prevalence of these Morning Sittings? How is our time divided between Her Majesty's Government and the unofficial Members of this House? Under these circumstances, the House meets at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, suspends the sitting at 7, and resumes at 9. On Monday the sitting would be 10½ hours; available for opposed Government Business, 9½ hours. On Tuesday the sitting would be 10½ hours; available for Opposed Government Business, 4½ hours; and for un- official Orders, 1 hour. On "Wednesday the sitting would be 6 hours; available for unofficial business, 5½ hours. On Thursday the sitting would be 10½ hours; available for Government Business, 9½ hours. On Friday the sitting would be 10½ hours; available for Government Business, 6 hours. The general result would be, that during the Morning Sittings the House would sit 48 hours per week, of which 29½ hours, available for Opposed Orders, are appropriated by the Government, and only 6½ hours were available for unofficial Orders. According to the calculation, in the ordinary state of things, when the House has not adopted Morning Sittings, the unofficial Members have half the time available for Opposed Orders; but, when the Morning Sittings are appointed, they appear to have between one-fourth and one-fifth of the time. It may, therefore, be fairly assumed, that of the whole time of the Session available for Opposed Orders, the unofficial Members have, on the average, less than one-third—in other words, the Government have double the time that the unofficial Members possess—and yet the number of Bills for the last three Sessions introduced by the unofficial Members has been equal to the number introduced by the Government. This proportion may, however, be affected so far as to Government time for their Orders by Supply, and Financial Statements; but the time occupied by Motions by way of Amendment to Supply, made by unofficial Members, may be taken as a set-off, and probably balance the deduction from the Government's time for Orders. I think, therefore, I am justified in stating, that, on the average of the Session, the Government have double the time for their Bills, which is available for the unofficial Bills. Let me now glance at the number of Bills which were introduced respectively by Ministers and by unofficial Members. The total number of Bills introduced in the House of Commons, including Bills brought from the Lords, during the Session of 1872, was 240; of this number, 120 were Government Bills, and 120 non-official Bills. The official Bills passed were 92, and I was rejected on division; the total dealt with by the House being 93, whilst there were withdrawn or discharged—that is, not dealt with by the House—27. Then, of the 120 non-official Bills, 30 were passed, 18 were rejected on divisions; making a total of 48 dealt with by the House, whilst 72 were dropped, discharged, and laid aside; in other words, not dealt with by the House. Thus showing that, of the 120 official Bills, three-fourths were passed, and scarcely one-fourth abandoned; and that of the 120 non-official Bills, only one-fourth were passed, and nearly seven-twelfths were abandoned. In the following Session, 1873, the Government introduced 119 Bills, and non-official Members 120 Bills. Of the 119 official Bills 91 were passed, and 2 rejected on divisions, the total dealt with by the House being 93: and the number withdrawn or discharged—that is, not dealt with by the House, was 26. Of the 120 non-official Bills there were passed 26, and rejected on divisions 16; the number dealt with by the House being 42, while there were withdrawn, discharged, and dropped—not dealt with by the House—78. Thus, out of 119 official Bills, three-fourths were passed and scarcely one-fourth abandoned; whereas of the 120 non-official Bills about one-fourth only were passed, and nearly eight-twelfths were abandoned. Let me now take the Session of 1874. In that Session 202 Bills were introduced, of which 101 were Government Bills, and 101 non-official. The number of official Bills passed was 88, and I was referred to a Select Committee; the total dealt with by the House being 89. There were withdrawn, discharged, and dropped—that is, not dealt with by the House, 12. Of the 101 non-official Bills 23 were passed, and 17 were rejected on divisions, together 40; whilst 61 were withdrawn, discharged, or dropped—that is, were not dealt with by the House. So that of the 101 official Bills, more than three-fourths were passed, and scarcely one-eighth abandoned; whereas, of the 101 non-official Bills, about one-fifth only were passed; while six-tenths were abandoned. If any one, Sir, will take the trouble to look at the Order Book, I think he will come to the conclusion that the practice of allowing Bills to be introduced, which have not the slightest prospect of being passed, has been carried to great excess. By reviving the old practice of the House, by treating the Motion for leave as a substantive Motion, not as a matter of mere form, you do not debar hon. Members from bringing in the substance of their proposals by way of Resolution, and taking the sense of the House on the subjects they would thereby introduce. Leave to introduce a Bill can only be obtained by a Motion; why should not the House, upon that Motion, having ascertained the character of the Bill, express an opinion not merely upon the merits of the Bill itself, but also upon the fitness of the proposal to occupy a place on the Order Book, to the interruption of the passing of other measures, and so to occupy the attention of this great Assembly on repeated occasions? For, remember, that when the House grants leave for the introduction of a Bill, it grants leave to the hon. Member in charge of it to appropriate to the consideration of the subject which he introduces, a portion—perhaps no inconsiderable portion—of the time of the House. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) is incapacitated by ill-health from being in his place this evening, for I have reason to believe that this subject has engaged his attention. I think I can show, from a public declaration on his part, that he is convinced that unless the House again insists upon the exercise of its discretion with regard to subjects which are to be brought under its attention, which are to occupy its time, gradually the House will lose all command over the time appropriated by it to the Business of unofficial Members. In the year 1873, I moved for the appointment of a Select Committee on Public Business, so far as the time appropriated to the Government and to unofficial Members respectively. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich was then Prime Minister, and in reply to my observations thus spoke— While private Members squabbled with the Government, and the Government with private Members, the cardinal difficulty lay in the quantity of Business and the fixed quantity of time to do it in, and it was to the economical distribution of that time to which the House would have to look, rather than to any great advantage to be gained by private Members at the expense of the Government."—[3 Hansard, ccxv. 240.] Colonel Wilson-Patten, now Lord Winmarleigh, followed in the same debate, and used these expressions— The other day he counted the number of Bills awaiting discussion which had been brought in by hon. Members. He found there were no fewer than 66 Bills on the Order Book. Colonel Wilson-Patten was speaking on the 27th of March. It is now only the 19th of February, yet the Bills introduced by hon. Members already exceed 66. Colonel Wilson-Patten went on to say— He had not counted the Notices of Motion, but they were very numerous. It was clearly impossible that all of them could be considered and passed through their various stages in the time at the disposal of the House. The truth was, that the measures introduced by private Members impeded each other, and would continue to do so under any system that had been suggested. The only thing that would facilitate the passage of a portion of them would be the withdrawal of the rest.…Business had so increased that its discharge was almost impossible under any rules, unless, as he had stated, hon. Members whose Bills had no chance of passing, would at once withdraw them—a course, however, which it was hopeless to expect, every hon. Member naturally thinking his own Bill an important one."—[Ibid. 242–3.] Having given to the House the opinion of the late Prime Minister, and of a Peer who was at one time the Chairman of our Committees, and was ever distinguished by the assiduous ability with which he applied himself to the Business of this House, I appeal to non-official Members themselves who have observed the state of Business during the last three Sessions, whether Colonel Wilson-Patten was not right, when he said that Bills which as they must see have no chance of passing, ought either not to be introduced, or ought to be withdrawn in good time? It is strange that so great an Assembly as this should submit to have its time during a third of the time of the Session embarrassed by the inconvenience, the hap-hazard, of an overcrowded Order Book.'—I have hitherto been speaking upon the 1st Resolution in my Notice. By the 2nd Resolution I propose to apply the principle of Lord Redesdale's Resolution, which has long been adopted by the House of Lords, with respect to Bills sent up from this House too late in the Session for their adequate consideration by the House of Lords. Lord Redesdale claimed for the House of Lords the exercise of a discretion as to whether they would entertain any of these Bills after a certain date in the Session. I propose that this House should claim the same kind of discretion in the terms of this Resolution by declaring— "That no Order for any stage of such Bill shall be appointed for any day more than a month from the date of the previous stage of such Bill, with a view to the further consideration of such Bill during the Session, unless the House, by special Resolution, of which the usual notice shall have been given, shall otherwise direct. We have already a Rule that no hon. Member shall be permitted to give a Notice of Motion further forward than a month from the day on which he may obtain leave to introduce it; and why should we not apply the principle of that Rule to the stages of Bills? Why should we countenance such a practice as that when a Member has, in February, obtained leave to introduce a Bill, which is always granted upon the presumption that he hopes it may pass into law, he should, as in a case we have before us, be allowed to appoint the second reading for so late a day as the 7th of July? It is almost a moral impossibility that this Bill should become law, were it to obtain the sanction of this House. But there is a further objection to this practice, and this is—that the Bill, which so stands for second reading on the 7th of July, obstructs the passage of other Bills in their latter stages which the House has approved and desires to see passed. This is a matter, however, in reference to which I think the House should not adopt as an absolute rule that no stage of a Bill shall hereafter be appointed for a day later than a month; but should declare that if any of the stages of any particular Bill are to be appointed further forward than a month from the date of its introduction, or its last previous stage, then Notice should be given to the House that an application will be made for permission, so that a further postponement of any stage of such Bill shall be the special act of the House according to its discretion, and not be considered in any sense within the privilege of the individual Member who has charge of the Bill. The third suggestion is, I have been told, rather too comprehensive. It is in these terms— No such Bill shall be appointed for Second Reading after the Whitsuntide Recess unless the House"—acting on the principle of Lord Redesdale's Resolution—"by special Resolution, of which the usual Notice shall have been given, direct that such Bill be appointed for Second Reading at a later period of the Session. Now, the object of the Resolution is this—It has been doomed expedient that the House should entrust to Her Majesty's Ministers' to the Executive the origination of by far the greater part of the legislation which is submitted to this House. I have shown that on the average of two Sessions—namely, 1872 and 1873—the Government introduced in round numbers 120 Bills, and that they passed three-fourths of them; but it has become the invariable practice that before Whitsuntide, whoever may be Ministers of the Crown, should declare which of their Bills then standing on the Order Book they intend to proceed with, and which to withdraw. My 3rd Resolution—or, rather, I should say, suggestion—proposes that the House should, before Whitsuntide, exercise a similar discretion with respect to those Orders and Bills standing in the Order Book that have been introduced by the non-official Members. I have thought, and thought deeply, whether it would be possible for non-official Members to act separately from the Government, but together among themselves, in the regulation of their business. I am convinced that this is impossible, and that it is only by calling upon the House itself in the aggregate to decide at its discretion which Bills shall be proceeded with after Whitsuntide, and which Bills shall be arrested or withdrawn, that we are likely so to clear the Order Book as to enable the House to carry out its intentions with respect to the Bills it has not only allowed to be introduced, but has approved after their introduction. The House could thus relieve itself from the difficulties caused by an overcrowded Order Book, relieve itself of having to debate Bill after Bill, introduced by hon. Members with no reasonable expectation that, after all this waste of time, after the trouble they give the House at large, these Bills will at any reasonable period, if ever, become law. These suggestions are, I hope, not extravagant; and I trust the House will remember that it is only after a Committee on public Business has been repeatedly refused, and last refused when I myself moved its appointment, that I have ventured to lay these suggestions before the House. I have now been a Member of this House for more than 30 years; I was a Member of the Select Committee on the Public Business of this House which sat in 1861, and again I was a Member of the Committee on Public Business in 1871, and as the result of this experience I humbly submit to the House those suggestions for relieving the unofficial Members and the House from a real difficulty. I do not deny that there are advantages in having subjects for legislation submitted to the House in the form of Bills; I believe that the exertion of attempting to reduce the matter into legislative form has a wholesome effect upon the hon. Member who desires to occupy the attention of the House; for this exertion is calculated to dispel chimerical expectations and ideas in himself and in others, which may have been excited by glowing declamation; becoming acquainted with the difficulty of practical legislation may sober many who might otherwise indulge in wild exaggeration, may induce them calmly to consider the practicability of compliance with their demands. But if this advantage is to be obtained, the Bills must be well framed, so drawn as to be worthy of being submitted to this House; we should thus escape those specimens of crude legislation, which too often absorb and waste the time allowed to the unofficial Members by this House. It is far better that the House should consider each Bill, each proposal at the initial step, and if any hon. Member does not produce evidence that he is competent to submit a feasible framework of a measure for legislation, the House should not allow him to occupy a position on the Order Book with his Bill, which thus wastes time and becomes obstructive of other measures. I than the House for allowing me to submit these suggestions to its notice. I can assure you, Sir, that out-of-doors this subject has attracted considerable attention. I have always entertained an earnest desire to contribute, however humbly, to the maintenance of the high character of the House, and to the efficient discharge of its duties; and it is with that feeling that I submit to the House the 1st Resolution, which I have now the honour to move.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no Notice of Motion for leave to introduce a Public bill, other than a Bill to he introduced by or on behalf of Her Majesty's Ministers, or a Bill brought from the House of Lords, shall be held to be sufficient, unless copies of such Bill have, three days previous to such Motion being made, been deposited in the Public Bill Office, or unless the Notice contain a description of the means or method by which the object of such Bill is proposed to be effected,"—(Mr. Newdegate,)

—instead thereof.

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


Sir, my hon. Friend in introducing these Resolutions has referred to an observation of my own made, I believe, last Session, in which, while expressing an opinion that it was not expedient that the Committee on Public Business should be again appointed, I thought it advisable that individual Members should offer to the House any suggestions for the improved management of our business. I am not surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire should have undertaken the task, for few hon. Members have given so much attention to the transaction of Public Business as himself, and he has, I believe, sat on more than one Select Committee whose recommendations have obtained the sanction of the House. At the same time, I may state that, looking at these Resolutions, and occupying the position which I do at this moment, I can view them with impartiality, because these Resolutions, although in effect they propose that great alterations should be made in the mode of conducting Public Business, and although they make restrictions in the conduct of private Members, yet they do not apply to Her Majesty's Government. With regard to these throe Resolutions, I would make three remarks. As to that which would require copies of Bills to be deposited in the Public Bill Office three days previous to their announcement in this House, I would ask the House to consider what a remarkable alteration that would make in the initiation of business. The House can hardly have forgotten that on the first night of our meeting there were nearly 50 Notices, the majority of which related to Bills involving proposed legislation; and, in fact, the business of the Session can be well indicated on the first night; but that would not be possible if this Resolution were adopted, for not a single Notice could be given on the first night of the meeting of the House. When the House has been in Prorogation for a long time, the House naturally expects some expression of opinion on the part of hon. Members as to the subjects which require legislation or notice; but under this Resolution the first night of the Session would be a dull and silent ceremony, without the slightest echo of any feeling in the public mind, or any recognition of the pulse of public opinion, such as would be expressed by the meeting of a great popular Assembly under circumstances of considerable expectation, and when Parliament has been opened perhaps by the Sovereign herself. I now come to the second Resolution, which, as it seems to me, would practically add another stage to every Bill. While these Resolutions are brought forward to hoard the time of the House, and to prevent any unnecessary expenditure of that important element, this Resolution, so far as I can collect, would increase in number the stages of a Bill, which, though many think them too numerous, I am not prepared in any way to diminish, though I think they are ample to secure the liberties of the country. The third Resolution appears to me to be of a very peculiar character; the practical effect of it is an early Prorogation of Parliament for private Members. [Laughter.] That really would be the consequence of that Resolution. Certainly, the feature of these Resolutions is increased restriction. What is the ground on which my hon. Friend thinks it necessary to bring forward this code of restriction on our proceedings? It appears to be this—the official Members and the unofficial Members, generally speaking, propose an equal amount of legislation every year. Say, for example, 120 Bills are proposed by official Members and the same number by unofficial Members. The result is, that the official Members pass 100 of their 120, and the unofficial Members pass 20 of their 120. My hon. Friend seems to think that that is a very great evil—not that the Government measures are passed; he wishes them to be; he says that the Government have double the time of unofficial Members, and he does not grudge them it; but he says it is a great evil that the unofficial Members should have the privilege of introducing 120 Bills and passing only 20. I am not so clear that that is a great evil. In the first place, you must look at the essential difference between Bills brought in by a responsible Government and Bills that are brought in by independent and irresponsible legislators. Generally speaking, no Bill is brought forward by a Government that is not to a certain extent called for by public convenience and public necessity; but Bills brought forward by those who are not responsible in that light, by those who are described by the hon. Gentleman as unofficial Members, are generally Bills that are essentially of a tentative character. It is very true that many Bills are brought forward in this House by hon. Gentlemen who do not contemplate their being passed, and do not even wish them to be; they are convinced, their constituencies are convinced, or some party or section of the country is convinced that legislation is necessary upon these subjects; they prepare Bills, and create a public opinion and hope in time to pass laws, the beneficial character of which is ultimately acknowledged. But that is a process which is necessarily peculiar to an Assembly like the present; it does not appear to me to be necessarily disadvantageous; and I am not at all prepared to say to the unofficial Members—as my hon. Friend's proposition practically does—"You are to be so tied and so restricted that, in fact, you shall be allowed to bring in only 20 Bills, with the prospect that you shall then be able to carry them." I cannot think that any alteration of that kind is at all needed. My hon. Friend says he objects very much to the practice of introducing Bills of which there is no prospect of their being passed in the Session; and he is in favour of the House making more use of that stage of the Bill in which the Member asks leave to bring in the Bill, so that they may decide upon that occasion whether the Bill should or should not be brought in. I have very great doubt whether that would be an expedient course. It is very difficult to decide upon a question, which is complicated enough to require legislation, on the more statement of an hon. Member; that may be as clear as possible; when you see the moans by which he proposes to carry out his suggestions you find that some of them are inconsistent and impracticable; and until you have the Bill really before you, I do not think it is possible to form anything like a sedate opinion on his proposal. On these grounds alone, I am against the opinions which have been indicated by my hon. Friend. I know I shall be considered heretical in what I say; but I confess, referring to my own experience, which is longer even than the 30 years of my hon. Friend, I am not of opinion that there is too little legislation in this House. I think there is enough—there is sufficient, and it is sufficiently well grounded—and, although Acts of Parliament are not drawn up with the strict laws of literary composition, and although a Judge may, perhaps in a moment of irritation, due to the heated atmosphere of a crowded Court, occasionally sneer at our labours, and at an expression in some of our productions, I doubt very much whether, considering the kind of legislation which goes on, and the difficulty and complexity of the subjects which we have to encounter, results as favourable as we accomplish can be paralleled in any other Assembly in any other country. I really wish the House to give their opinion, and I do not wish in any way to dictate my own. The Resolutions do not affect the conduct of the Business of the Government, they concern the unofficial and independent Members. If they are prepared for increased restrictions—if they are prepared to give more time to Her Majesty's Ministers, I can only say that any boon of that kind will be received on our part with the utmost courtesy and gratitude. I wish hon. Members to understand that the observations I have made have reference to their interests, and not to those of the Government. I have a high respect for my hon. Friend. He could not have arrived at these Resolutions without much thought, research, and experience; but from what I know of attempts to deal with the procedure and conduct of Business in this House, I have come to the conclusion that, though, no doubt, there are changes which on happy occasions we may avail ourselves of, the general rules upon which our procedure is based are sound and beneficial.


said, the fact that there had already been two discussions this Session in regard to the arrangements affecting independent Members proved that those arrangements were not entirely satisfactory. Now that the half-past 12 rule had been adopted in all its rigour, private Members had no opportunity to carry through the House a Bill which was the subject of serious discussion. That was more especially the case, when it was recollected that Bills of private Members were brought forward after midnight—no opportunity offering for them to introduce them at an earlier time of the night. Last Session, by an elaborate calculation, he ascertained that the time at the disposal of independent Members who had introduced Bills did not average more than 43 minutes and a few seconds. On the first night of that Session, 40 hon. Members sat for five or six weary hours, each having in his hand a paper with a bit of green riband round it. A more dismal set of objects it was impossible to conceive, and the agony they endured while they sat looking at each other was enough for the rest of the Session. With regard to the first Resolution, he came down rather prepared to support it; but after hearing the speech of his hon. Friend, he felt bound to oppose it. If adopted, it would cause three discussions on the principle of a Bill instead of two; and, therefore, so far from expediting, it would retard the progress of a measure. He could not see much objection to the second Resolution; but to the third, and by far the most important of the Resolutions, he must offer his most strenuous opposition. If that Resolution were carried, the result would be that only one-half of the Bills introduced by private Members would ever reach a second reading. The County Franchise Bill had been put down for the 7th of July, because, before Notice could be given of its introduction, every Wednesday in the Order Book up to that date was already full; and if the rule of the House were in accordance with that Resolution, it could never be read a second time at all. As the Prime Minister had pointed out, if private Members under the present system did not succeed in legislation, they got discussion. A subject was thoroughly ventilated in the House and discussed in the public journals, and thus became ripe for legislation. It was in that way that the Factory Bill of last Session, though brought in by a private Member, was, after discussion, judiciously taken up by the Government, and formed one of the few legislative results of the Session. In the same way he did not despair of the Burials Bill being taken up by some Government and passed into law.


considered the Re-solutions entirely impracticable. If the first were adopted, another Resolution would be necessary, requiring that only a certain number of Bills should be introduced in any one night. There would be a rush on the first night of the Session to got the Bills printed, and there would be so many to get printed and distributed and read, that it would be impossible to comply with the conditions laid down, or for hon. Members, under those conditions, to make themselves acquainted with the nature and the provisions of the Bills which were introduced. The second and third Resolutions would, in fact, add two more stages to those which already stood between the introduction of the Bill of a private Member and its passing. There were too many obstacles already, and he was not inclined to add to their number.


approved of the first Resolution. Under the present system, Bills jostled each other too much to permit of their proper consideration. He thought the great evil of the present system was that, all Bills being introduced without discussion, became Orders, and thus the Order Book was too crowded after Easter; but these Resolutions would ensure many Bills being disposed of before Easter. The House would thus have more serious work before Easter, and lighter work after Easter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.