HC Deb 27 July 1877 vol 236 cc13-25

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Orders of the Day be postponed until after the Notice of Motion relating to the Business of the House."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


demurred to this proposition, for he ventured still to hope that the right hon. Gentleman might be induced to re-consider the propriety of bringing the subject forward that night. His reason for this appeal was that a short time ago the House was informed by the right hon. Gentleman that any question affecting changes in the Rules for the regulation of the Business of that House ought not to be made under excited feelings or without full Notice; and he had rested in full confidence that that promise would be adhered to by Her Majesty's Government. He did not remember the exact words used, but what he had stated was the impression produced by the right hon. Gentleman on the minds of hon. Members. And was it likely that, irritated as they had been by the course adopted by certain Members, the House would be able to discuss calmly any Resolutions that might be laid before them? And was it wise that the House should enter upon a discussion of Resolutions the precise nature of which had only now been laid before them? The general nature of the Resolutions had, indeed, been stated last evening by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Resolutions in their precise terms were not placed in the hands of the Clerk at 12 o'clock at night, and many hon. Members had not seem them until that morning. The alteration of Rules materially affecting the rights of minorities was a proposal requiring calm and deliberate consideration; but it was impossible that hon. Members could have given them consideration, or had time to consider what Amendments they might desire to move; and time ought to be given to enable them to place those Amendments on the Notice Paper. That opportunity had scarcely been afforded. Since the unfortunate disturbance on Wednesday, which was still fresh in the minds of hon. Members, the Government had themselves found it desirable to depart from the course they proposed on Wednesday to pursue. While desiring to promote Order, he wished to see the privileges of Members duly protected; and, under these circumstances, he respectfully appealed to the Government to postpone the discussion of this important question until Monday.


was glad his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea had protested against taking these Resolutions into consideration at the present moment, for to his own mind it seemed perfectly certain that if they were now discussed a long and acrimonious debate would ensue. Beyond that, when the Resolutions were carried—as, of course, they would be by a Government which had the support of so large a majority in the House—they would have the effect of uniting to the two or three hon. Members who had peculiar views of their privileges a vast number of other hon. Gentlemen who would insist that the rights of minorities should be respected. During the few years he had been a Member of that House, he had observed that, upon every one of the occasions when the Rules had been hastily altered, the House found itself involved in a mistake. It was, moreover, quite evident to anyone who read the Resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that they would not meet the case they were intended to meet. The hon. Members whose conduct was impugned had not disregarded the ruling of the Chair. ["Oh, oh! Order!"]


ruled that the hon. Member for Galway was not speaking to the Question before the House.


said, he would content himself with simply saying he was quite sure that any hon. Member who was determined to set himself against the feeling of the House would find ample opportunities of rendering these Resolutions nugatory. He would not now discuss the Resolutions; but would merely point out that, in his opinion, they would tend to defeat the object which the Government had in view.


joined in the appeal of the hon. Member for Swansea. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had acted wisely in modifying his Notice of yesterday, for it was most desirable that the personal element should be removed from the question. But, notwithstanding, the personal element still remained, because every hon. Member knew perfectly well that these Resolutions were pointed at certain Members. The Rules of debate in that House had become so crystallized through a long process of time, and were so efficient, that, for his part, he did not believe in tampering with them. If, however, it was thought desirable to make any change in them, an opportunity should be given for a calm and dispassionate discussion upon such an important proposition. If the discussion of these Rules came on, he thought he would be able to show that, at any rate, the first of them was thoroughly bad.


reminded the hon. Member that he had already pointed out to an hon. Gentleman that it was irregular to anticipate the discussion of a Motion which was not yet before the House.


bowed to the decision of the Speaker; but still submitted that his remarks seemed necessary in order to show that these Resolutions could not be dispassionately and calmly discussed, when hon. Members had not had a fair opportunity of understanding what their full effect would be. He hoped, therefore, the discussion would be postponed until Monday.


supported the appeal for the postponement of the discussion. If within 24 hours of making one proposal the Chancellor of the Exchequer had abandoned it, the same repentance might possibly seize the right hon. Gentleman before the present debate closed. Was it reasonable or constitutional for the House to enter upon the discussion of Resolutions of which so short a Notice had been given? He certainly thought not. A proposal to infringe the rights of Members was too serious a matter to be proceeded with hastily; and if the present proposition of the right hon. Gentleman were persevered in, he believed the only way of ensuring its due discussion would be for those who had the rights of Members at heart so to protract discussion that per- fect deliberation might be allowed. It seemed to be forgotten by the Press and the House that the scene of Wednesday last arose from two hon. Members who represented constituencies in this country.


said, that with every desire to assist the Government in arriving at a solution of this difficulty, he thought he could show reasons for delay. He thought it was desirable to remember that there were two kinds of obstruction, which he submitted ought to be kept perfectly distinct. He had himself joined hon. Members in opposing certain measures honestly with the desire of securing further time for their consideration by the House and the public, and any attempt to interfere with this constitutional and in many cases most useful mode of obtaining time for the consideration of important measures by the House and by the public was much to be deprecated. That was one kind of obstruction which served a useful purpose. He had lately spent a night with some Irish Members, whom he might, with their permission, call his hon. Friends; and he had never spent a night with more satisfaction to himself. His meeting with his hon. Friends on that occasion would leave an enduring impression upon his mind; and he must say that men more honourable in their purpose, more consistent, more resolute —["Order, order!"]—


reminded the hon. Member of the Question before the House, and pointed out that he was not addressing himself to that Question.


said, that what he was now saying was a necessary preface to a question he was about to ask of the hon. Member for Meath, the response to which might afford some definite grounds for their action. ["Order!"] Well, he would put it to the hon. Gentleman and leave it with him as a Gentleman, and without the slightest reflection or imputation upon his honour as a Member of the House, whether the hon. Member did not consider it consistent with his duty, seeing that he had been sent there by a class of persons who did not recognize that House or any part of the Constitution—["Order, order!"]—


ruled that the hon. Member was out of Order.


appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to attempt to coerce, constrain, discipline, or indoctrinate with his views hon. Members of the House without some special knowledge of the motives and principles of action of the hon. Member for Meath and those who acted with him.


also supported the appeal made by his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea—not in any spirit of hostility to the Resolutions, but on the ground of further time being necessary to enable hon. Members to consider these Resolutions, and give Notice of such Amendments as, in their judgment, they thought desirable. He believed that was the feeling of a great many hon. Members. The subject was admittedly a difficult one, and a conclusive proof of this fact was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the assistance of his Colleagues, had not been able to state the precise terms of the Resolutions until the last moment. It was no secret that several hon. Members thought it their duty to move Amendments upon them. One hon. Gentleman, a supporter of the Government, had told him of his intention to move a very important Amendment. If that was the case, the House would be placed in the most awkward position of discussing Amendments which would not even be in print. Another argument in favour of adjournment was to be found in the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had abandoned a most important Resolution within 24 hours of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hardy) moving the adjournment of the debate upon it. He said this without the slightest desire to taunt the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the contrary, he desired to acknowledge the unvarying tact and undeviating courtesy which the right hon. Gentleman had displayed, as Leader of the House, under the most trying circumstances. But, while he would not speak in a spirit of taunt or complaint, he must deprecate proceeding with the discussion of this difficult question in a hurry. Nothing could be more unfortunate than that the House should fall into a mistake through undue haste; while no possible harm could arise from the postponement of the discussion, at any rate, until Monday, when the House would probably be in a calmer frame of mind, and therefore better fit to consider so important a Question.


said, that understanding that the Resolutions would operate only to the end of the Session, he thought the House would do wrong to delay to consider them. He had not been struck with the promptitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in supporting the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means, and if the Leader of the House had at last made up his mind to do something for the remainder of the Session it would be imprudent to refuse to consider his proposals. He confessed that the course the right hon. Gentleman proposed to take was not the one he should have himself desired. The House had suffered obstruction from a small knot of Members; but he felt jealous of Members resigning any of their privileges because they had been abused for the obstruction of Business. It would be in accordance with the ancient practice of the House that when an hon. Member exceeded his privileges he should be made responsible for his conduct to the House. The House having consented to place the whole of its time for the remainder of the Session at the disposal of the Government with the view of carrying out the Business of the country, the least it could do was to agree to the proposal of the Government to enable them to do so. The whole conduct of the Business of the country was understood to be committed to the House of Commons. He believed it would be unfair in the circumstances of the case to refuse to consider these proposals; but he most seriously lamented that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government had refused to consider a Motion he made at the commencement of the Session to allow the House the opportunity of considering the state and conduct of Business in a Committee of its own. He was opposed in that Motion by the Government; but as the House had chosen to commit its whole Business to the care of the Government, the House was, he thought, bound to consider the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


said, he happened to know that many hon. Members wished to propose Amendments to the Resolutions; but, in order that they might be able to do so, it was necessary for the House to have due Notice of the Reso- lutions to be proposed by the Government. It was, therefore, a question whether the Government ought not to postpone this matter until Monday, or, better still, until next Session. During the interval the Government would have an opportunity of considering the Rules of the) House in a digested form, with the assistance of the Speaker, and they would be able to come before the House next Session with the result of their mature deliberations. It did not become either the Government or the House to alter hastily the practice that had been established for centuries.


Sir, I do not rise to complain of the course which has been taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea and other hon. Members who have supported his appeal. On the contrary, if it had been an earlier period of the Session I should be inclined to support his appeal as perfectly reasonable. In this case, however, we cannot forget the time of the Session at which we have arrived. Circumstances have arisen which, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, and in the opinion of a large portion of the House, have made it necessary and desirable that we should take into consideration some of our Rules with reference to the conduct of Business for the remainder of the Session. I did not understand that it is proposed that the Resolutions now proposed should be permanently binding upon the House, but that they would be merely for our guidance for the conduct of Business for the remainder of the Session. If it is worth while to consider new Rules for the conduct of Business during the remainder of the Session, it is surely worth while that we should consider them at once. The Session is not, I hope, to be protracted for a much longer period; and I cannot help thinking that, whatever inconvenience or possible irregularity there may be in proceeding at once, we had better face it rather than postpone for another day or two what ought to be considered at once. I consider the most serious part of the appeal of the hon. Member for Swansea to be that he has been unable to put down on the Paper the Amendments he might wish to move; but the hon. Member has had an opportunity of considering, for 24 hours at all events, the substance of the Resolutions. ["No!"] With the exception of one or two words, the Resolutions proposed by the Government were announced yesterday. No doubt, in ordinary circumstances, it would be more convenient that these Amendments should be placed on the Paper; but my hon. Friend is well acquainted with the whole subject. If the House will proceed to a consideration of the matter, it will, I am sure, carefully attend to any Amendments that may be proposed. I hope the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) was wrong in thinking that either to-day or any other day we should have an acrimonious discussion on these proposals. I believe that the House will be prepared to discuss the matter with perfect calmness. And I cannot think that if there is to be any acrimony introduced into the discussion it would be avoided by the postponement of the Resolutions.


I entirely echo the closing observation of the noble Marquess, and I fully hope and believe that if we are allowed to go on with this discussion it will be conducted without acrimony and in a spirit worthy of the great Assembly to which we belong. I would say with regard to the suggestions of the hon. Member for Swansea that, undoubtedly, if this were a question of making a permanent alteration of our Rules, it would be desirable that it should be introduced at an earlier period, and that a longer time should be given for the consideration of the subject. More than that— I should be prepared to say that any material alteration of our Rules of a permanent character would be better discussed in the quiet and calm of a Committee than upon Resolutions moved and discussed in the House itself. With regard to that point, I will say, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), that we do recognize the importance of carefully considering and maturely examining the nature of our Rules — and that after careful examination of the Reports of the several Committees that have considered the subject, we look forward to making some proposals next Session in a definite form, which proposals I should suggest should be then referred to a Committee of the House carefully selected, and that they should be examined with a view to any permanent alterations in our Rules that may be thought necessary. I admit that I am most jealous of making alterations in our Rules—I have shown that during the present Session—and I have endeavoured as far as possible to discourage anything in the nature of alteration made in any circumstances of irritation. But I feel that at the present moment it is not a question whether we should proceed with the Resolutions to-day or on Monday, but whether we should consider them now or lay them aside altogether. I think that if the House does not think fit to take these proposals into consideration at once, it would be equivalent to saying that they declined to consider them during the present Session. And I must point out to the House that in leaving you, Sir, and the Chairman of Committees without the support—the moral support—which even the discussion of the Resolutions and the affirmation of their principle would confer, the House would be taking a great responsibility upon itself, and would be placing the Chair in a position that would be unsatisfactory. I am aware that you, Sir, are feeling very seriously the difficulties in which you have been for some time placed. I am aware that you look for support and assistance from this House—and if that support and assistance is to be given, it ought to be given without delay. [Cheers.] As it has been already pointed out, that any Resolution which we may now pass can only be binding for the remainder of the Session, I trust that this debate will not be greatly prolonged, and I hope that the House will allow us to proceed to the discussion of these Resolutions immediately. It will, of course, be open to any hon. Member to propose any Amendment he pleases. No doubt it would be more convenient if such Amendments as may be proposed appeared on the Paper; but I am sure that Amendments submitted by hon. Members of such experience as the hon. Member for Swansea, will be sufficiently intelligible without that advantage. It is not, however, as I have said, a question between discussing the question now or on Monday nest, but between discussing it now or laying it aside altogether.


said, he hoped it would not be thought that hon. Members on that side of the House did not sympa- thize with Her Majesty's Government in the highest degree, owing to the difficult circumstances in which they found themselves placed in their endeavour to conduct the public Business. Many hon. Members who had been anxious to take part in the discussion of important questions brought before the House, had been impeded and exposed to misconception by the course of conduct which had been pursued by two or three hon. Members. If, however, they were now to put those hon. Members in a position of martyrdom they would entirely change the issue before the House, and probably give to the hon. Gentlemen referred to that sympathy and support which otherwise they would not receive. It was very desirable that they should be unanimous in the course proposed to be taken; and he therefore hoped the Government would give the House a longer time to consider the important issue which they had to decide.


observed that he, too, was one of those who sympathized with Her Majesty's Government on account of the difficulties with which they had to contend; and, for his part, he thoroughly approved the object of the Resolutions, and was prepared to vote for any proposal calculated to secure the object they had in view. It seemed to him that the obstructions against which they were directed amounted to nothing less than a national scandal. Not only were they so, but he believed if they were not put a stop to the House could not hope to retain the respect of the country. It would at the same time, he thought, be admitted that in order that their proceedings should command approval elsewhere they ought to be unanimous as to what they did, and he did not think they were prepared to arrive at a unanimous decision tonight. He was therefore in favour of a postponement of the debate on the Resolutions until Monday.


said, the question really before the House was, whether they should proceed with this Motion now or adjourn the discussion until Monday? He wished to remind the House of what had occurred on Wednesday last. No doubt the Government, with their great majority, could have passed the Resolution then proposed, and of which they had since repented. ["No, no!"] Did hon. Members want to say the Government had not repented of that Resolution? If they had not repented, why did they not propose it? why were they afraid to follow it up to-day? He objected to proceed in a state of panic such as they witnessed on Wednesday, and the objection of the hon. Member for Swansea really was to prevent precipitate action. It appeared to him that on Wednesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down to the House with something in his pocket to be fired off at the first favourable opportunity. ["Order!"]


rose to Order. Surely this could not be pertinent to the Question before the House.


said, the hon. and learned Member was not out of Order; but he hoped he would bear in mind the Question before the House was not the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but related simply to the time when these Resolutions should be considered.


said, he was glad he had been sustained by the Speaker in his right to freely address the House. The House would remember what it was that led to all this. It was a Motion that certain words made use of by the hon. Member for Meath should be taken down. Those words were perfectly proper—they were not un-Parliamentary words—and what, he asked, were hon. Members doing now but "resisting in every way the intentions of the Government." Here they were with 31 Orders of the Day on the Paper, and yet the Government proposed an obstructive Motion. ["No, no!"] Why not then go into Committee of Supply? Why, because of this Government obstruction. The Motion Government intended to make must either be delayed, or else the Government struck at Members who had not offended. There was an air of unreality about the proceedings of the Government, and he believed this Motion was put forward as an excuse for the action of Wednesday—he had no doubt Government required this opportunity to attempt to fix the stigma of their failure this Session on the hon. Members for Cavan and Meath. They could now say that all the abortive measures, and all the failures of the Legislature, were due to those hon. Members, and that, no doubt, would be the cry of the Go- vernment during the forthcoming Recess.


said, he had no sympathy with Her Majesty's Government, but still he was anxious that they should proceed at once to the discussion of the Resolutions proposed by them. The Irish Party were neither afraid of a discussion, nor of the effect of the Resolutions when they had been discussed. He thanked the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) for the fairness with which he had examined the question; but the hon. and learned Member had lost sight of the effect of one important defect of the argument with which he had concluded his speech. The hon. and learned Member had said that Her Majesty's Government would avail themselves of this Motion to cover their mismanagement of the Business of the Session. He wished to remind his hon. and learned Friend that Her Majesty's Government was not the only section of the House who had made a scapegoat of Irish Members already. This was a good reason why they should have the matter discussed, and have the question thoroughly threshed out. The hon. Gentlemen whose conduct had been impugned were there to vindicate it from beginning to end. They were not afraid of discussion, and they challenged Her Majesty's Government and the House of Commons to bring it to an issue. The object of the Government was to go about the country in the Recess and avail themselves of a splendid opportunity of ascribing the bungling of the Session to the conduct of his hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell).


hoped the matter would be proceeded with at once. He asked the House to consider the fact that the Business of the country was at a complete standstill. Was that at all agreeable to them? The Government of the day had proposed a particular course of action, and the Leader of the Opposition had assented to that; their duty, therefore, was to go on and try if they could not do something. The public were looking at them and saying, what will be the next row in the House of Commons? If hon. Gentlemen had no respect for themselves, he had a respect for himself, and he humbly asked the House to consider, and not allow it- self to be put in the position of a great overgrown Vestry, that did not know how to conduct itself.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 319; Noes 40: Majority 279.—(Div. List, No. 255.)

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