HC Deb 13 May 1875 vol 224 cc587-95

moved "That the House, on its rising, do adjourn till Thursday next."


said: I rise with reluctance to call the attention of the House to the restrictions which have taken place on the opportunities which private Members have to bring before the House questions which they consider of importance to their constituents, and more particularly to the action of the Government with regard to the Sitting on Tuesday last. Four weeks ago I balloted for an opportunity of making a Motion. I was fortunate enough to have the first place for Tuesday afternoon. This Motion was of considerable interest to my constituents, and not only to them, but to the farmers of England and Scotland. I did not intend to anticipate the discussion which will, no doubt, take place on the measure now before the other House of Parliament; but I wished to make a statement with regard to some collateral matters which, I think, would have been of considerable importance to Members in coming to a conclusion with regard to that measure, and without which I do not think it can be fairly or properly discussed. On Monday afternoon the Prime Minister suddenly informed the House that there was to be a Morning Sitting next day for the discharge of Government Business. In this way the most important part of the day—from 2 to 7 o'clock—was taken up by the Government, leaving for private Members only after 9 o'clock. I did not offer any opposition to the Government proposition, because I was unwilling to offer any obstacle to the conduct of Public Business, and because I believed there was an honourable understanding on the part of the Government that when they took an afternoon Sitting on a day devoted by the usage of the House to Private Business they would make some reasonable effort to make a House. Now, what I have to complain of is, that instead of making any effort to make a House, I have reasonable grounds for believing—and, indeed, the facts were such as to make me believe—that they had the power to make a House at 9 o'clock, and did not do so. I came down at 9 o'clock, and as soon as I rose to address the House, a few minutes after 9 o'clock, the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) rose from the bench immediately behind the Treasury Bench to call attention to the number of Members present. I do not accuse the hon. and learned Gentleman of having any special interest to prevent the discussion of the Motion I was about to bring forward—indeed, he seemed to think, from the manner in which he discharged the duty, that he was vindicating some great constitutional principle, that there should always be 40 Members in the House; but I think, considering the tenacity with which he clings to the Treasury Bench, the intervention of the occupant of that bench would have been sufficient to induce the hon. and learned Member to restrain his impatience for five minutes, when a sufficient number of Members would have been present. What was the state of things when the House was counted out? On the Treasury Bench there had been previously two Members of the Government. One of these Members retired behind the Chair; there were also, I have reason to believe, in the Lobby of the House, three or four Members who usually sit on that side of the House, and are understood to be very amenable to the influence of the Member of the Government who is charged with the duty of making a House. Altogether, on the opposite side of the House there were not more than five members out of the 36 who were present. Under the circumstances, if the Government had wished to make a House, they had the power to do so. I must also, in fairness, state that on the front Opposition Bench there was not a single Member, and if it had not been for the Members from Ireland, who were good enough to come down to make a House, the number of Members present would have been very restricted indeed. I have felt it my duty to state publicly these facts, that agricultural constituencies may judge of the amount of attention which questions affecting their interest command from the two leading Parties in this House; and I think it right also to state thus publicly the difficulties and obstructions placed in the way of independent Members when they desire to bring forward for the consideration of the House, Motions which may be considered inconvenient by the Leaders of the House.


said, that as the hon. Member for Forfarshire had brought forward a grievance, perhaps the House would permit him also to state his complaint. On Friday last the right hon. Gentleman appointed as the First Order of the Day a question in precedence to the usual Motion of Supply, and he did that by obtaining the consent of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) alone, without consulting any of the other hon. Members who intended to avail themselves of the opportunity of bringing forward Motions upon going into Committee of Supply. That appeared to him to have been a most unusual and a somewhat unfair course of proceedings He should be glad to have some assurance that the Government would in future, if Supply was left upon the Paper on a Friday night, not deprive hon. Members of the opportunity of speaking upon the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair.


Sir, the difficulty in which the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) has found himself, affords but one illustration out of many of the hopeless position in which the unofficial Members of this House find themselves with respect to the Business they introduce. This difficulty has arisen with respect to Notices of Motion; but the confusion which the Order Book exhibits, among the Bills introduced by the unofficial Members of this House, appears simply inextricable; unless now, or after Whitsuntide, some system of reviewing the contents of the Order Book be adopted, and the House should decide which of the Bills introduced by unofficial Members of the House are worth retaining, as likely to become law. I desire, especially, to refer to the position of the Order for the Second Reading of the Monastic and Conventual Institutions Bill. [Ironical cheer.] Hon. Members must not, for one moment, suppose that I misunderstand the meaning of that cheer. It proceeds from those who desire to perpetuate that which I consider the undue multiplication and extension of these establishments, and to shield them from all inquiry. With this object, they have adopted that which I may describe as the policy of confusion, with respect to the Business of the House; their purpose being to prevent any matters connected with these establishments from being considered by the House. For this purpose, they have loaded the Order Book with Bills they never expect to pass, have written it full of Notices of Motion, entered for the mere purpose of obstruction, and have resorted to every stratagem and means of delay. This policy of confusion has been pursued with marvellous success during the last four or five Sessions; with such success that, although the Bill has been introduced in each of the past five Sessions, including the present, it has only once been possible to bring the Bill on for second reading. The question touched by this Bill is no small question, no in-significant matter; it involves a subject which has forced itself of late years on State after State, and Country after Country, in Europe, and has been dealt with successively by the Legislatures and Governments of those countries. The object of those who have adopted the policy of confusion is to prevent, to debar this House from considering anything connected with these Monastic and Conventual Institutions, and, as I have said, they have been marvellously successful in this process of incapacitating this House. Early this Session, I warned the House that for lack of due regulation in their Business, the unofficial Members—the great body of the Members of this House—were being incapacitated from the due performance of their duties. I would beg the House to consider what is its principal function? It is that of being the tribunal before which whatever grievances may be felt by any section of the community may be brought, and in which remedies may be suggested and considered. Now, the multiplication of these Monastic and Conventual Institutions, the circumstances under which they exist, and their effects on society, is considered a grievance by hundreds of thousands of persons in this country, as their Petitions testify; and their Representatives are debarred from duly submitting their grievance for the consideration of the House by this policy of confusion. The House would never hear me remonstrate and complain, as I now do, of any decision on this subject at which the House might fairly arrive, however adverse that decision might be to my views. But I do warn this House against permitting a perpetuation of this policy of confusion, which precludes us from the performance of the duties we have been sent into this House to execute. When I brought this subject—the probable state of its Business towards the close of the Session—before the House, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury replied, in substance, that the confusion prevalent in the Order Book in the Business introduced by the unofficial Members was, in his opinion, perfectly natural and legitimate; that the Bills they introduced could only be considered tentative; that, in short, so far as he was concerned, the unofficial Members might struggle with, and strangle each other as much as they chose; and that, if they got tired of that occupation, the Government would be very happy to accept any additional portion of the time allotted to them—in short, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the Government derived a legitimate advantage from the confusion which prevails in the Business of the unofficial Members. The Order for the Second Reading of the Monastic and Conventual Institutions Bill now stands for Friday, the 21st; the Government have on that night the right to give precedence to their own measures. I conclude that they will avail themselves of that right, and I give the right hon. Gentleman Notice, that I will on this day week ask him, Whether he will consent, after Whitsuntide, to appoint a Morning Sitting for the consideration of the second reading of the Monastic and Conventual Institutions Bill?


deeply regretted the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) should have counted out the House on Tuesday night, inasmuch as he (Mr. Locke) had the Jersey Courts Bill on the Paper for that evening, and he believed his hon. and learned Friend was opposed to that Bill. He hoped, however, that it was not on that account that the House was counted.


Sir, I had hoped that this Session might have passed away without my occupying the attention of the House even for one moment; but as the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) has rather pointedly alluded to me, I should like to say a few words. The hon. Member for Forfarshire seemed to lead the House to infer that it was possible for me to have asked the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) to have delayed the proceeding which he adopted. Now, the facts are these. I am sorry to say that I was too late in entering the House to delay these proceedings, and was just coming in when I heard the bell ringing. With regard to the other remarks of the hon. Member, I will be perfectly frank with him and the House. I did not use any strenuous efforts on Tuesday night. I believe that it has not been considered the duty of the Secretary to the Treasury to keep a House on those nights which are devoted exclusively to the business of private Members. In the position which I occupy there is nothing more important than that I should consider the feelings and instincts of Members on both sides of the House with regard to these matters; and I am bound to say that on Tuesday a vast number of Members did express to me the most fervent hope that there would not be a House, and that a great proportion of these Members, curiously enough, represented constituencies exclusively North of the Tweed. Further than that, I have only one remark to make. I noticed that when the House was counted more than three-fourths of those present represented Irish constituencies. That struck me as a peculiar feature when the Motion was one affecting the conditions of tenancy and land laws of Scotland. I can only add that if I had the least idea that hon. Members from Ireland were so intensely anxious to keep a House on a question peculiarly affecting Scotland, and if they had expressed a wish to that effect to me, it would have been to me not only a pleasure, but a luxury to have met them.


said, after all the question before the House was a Scotch question, because the hon. Member (Mr. Barclay), who considered himself the spokesman of the farmers of Scotland, had given Notice that he would call attention to the melancholy relations at present existing between farmers and their landlords in Scotland. [Mr. BARCLAY: No.] Now, the real reason why the Scotch Members and other hon. Members did not come down to the House on that evening was because the Scotch Members especially were aware that there was nothing whatever in the relations between landlords and tenants of Scotland that called for the intervention of the hon. Member. ["Order!"]


said, it would be out of Order for the hon. and gallant Member to discuss the merits of the Motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Barclay).


said, he was simply about to remark in regard to the presence of 30 Irish Members to support the hon. Gentleman, that the relations between landlord and tenant in Scotland were very different from those existing in Ireland. He believed he should be supported in what he said by the majority of the Scotch Members, when he stated that the relations between landlord and tenant in Scotland at present were excellent.


begged to express to the hon. Member for Forfarshire his regret if he had put him to inconvenience, and to assure him that he had received no hint from the Government to take the course which he adopted on Tuesday evening. His action was entirely spontaneous and unpremeditated. When he came down to the House there were only 12 Members present, and as there was a prospect of a dull and tedious Scotch debate, and as only four or five Scotch Members were present, he called attention to the fact that not more than 40 Members were in the House. The number was at once raised to 36 by an influx of Irish Members. He had been in the House for five hours in the earlier part of the day; and as to what the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) had said, he assured him that he was not afraid to meet him on the Jersey Courts Bill, but he did not wish to be kept waiting until half-past 12, up to which hour the Bill might possibly have come on. He also thought the Speaker was entitled to some relaxation.


vindicated the Irish Members for coming down on Tuesday night, because they thought an hon. Member who was supposed to represent the Scotch farmers ought to have an opportunity of stating the alleged grievances of that class. In his opinion, Morning Sittings were very disagreeable, and they did not at all advance Public Business.


I hope, Sir, there will be no further opposition to the Motion, which I feel sure will be pleasing to both sides of the House. I never favoured a "count-out," and I am quite sure that I have never contributed to one; but, at the same time, as a general observation, I must say that a "count-out" never takes place when the subject is one of general interest. I do not think the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) has anything to complain of. He may have been unfortunate; but I do not think any combination of circumstances could bring about the result he deprecates, and which has given occasion to a very generous admission on the part of the Irish Members which ought to console him. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley), however, made a distinct charge against the Government—that by putting Ways and Means instead of Supply upon the Paper as the First Order, they prevented him and other Members from exercising a Privilege to which they were entitled. I can assure the hon. Member that he is quite under a mistake; for by the Orders of the House, it is open to the Government to place either Supply or Ways and Means upon the Paper. We placed Ways and Means in order that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) should bring forward the subject of the financial propositions of the Government, and I believe we made that arrangement with the entire concurrence of the whole House.


maintained, that when the Government invaded those days set apart for private Members, they were bound to do their utmost to keep a House for them at the Evening Sittings.


pointed out that there had been a great deal of time spent over questions of Privilege. Any hon. Member had only to say he had a question of Privilege to bring forward, and he immediately took precedence of all the private Members who had obtained by ballot a day for their Motions. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) had an everlasting Motion to bring forward.

Motion agreed to.

House at rising to adjourn till Thursday next.