HC Deb 11 April 1878 vol 239 cc1096-105

In reply to Mr. DILLWYN,


said, that the arrangement of Public Business depended upon the course which might be taken by the House to-night. The first and main object of the Government would be to complete the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill and the Public Works Loans Bill before the Holidays. He could not foresee the course the discussion might take; but if they could take Ways and Means in Committee, and then discuss the two Bills he had mentioned, he hoped on Monday to take the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill in Committee, and then, if there remained sufficient time, they would then proceed with the Civil Service Estimates. In that case, he would propose to have a Morning Sitting on Tuesday, in order that, if necessary, the House might finish the financial measures, in the hope that after the Morning Sitting the House might rise for the Holidays. It was not intended to take any Scotch Business before the Holidays, nor any Civil Service Estimates for Ireland, and, therefore, Irish Members would not be detained unnecessarily. A Notice, in the name of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, had been standing on the Paper for some time, and the Government would be glad if he had an opportunity of introducing his important Bill to amend the Code of Indictable Offences; and, therefore, he begged to move that the Orders of the Day after the first three should be postponed for the purpose of enabling his hon. and learned Friend to introduce his measure, provided it could be reached in reasonable time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Orders of the Day subsequent to the Public Works Loans Bill be postponed until after the Notice of Motion for leave to bring in a Bill for establishing a Code of Indictable Offences."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


asked, What classes of the Civil Service Estimates it was proposed to take?


Classes II. and III.


asked, Whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended or hoped to get through the amount of Business he had indicated before the Holidays?


, in reply, said, that he had stated what the Government would like to do.


complained, that on the preceding day, when a Bill of very great importance to the working classes was discussed, a Supporter of the Government rose, and succeeded in talking it out. As that hon. and learned Member sat immediately behind the Treasury bench, he (Mr. Macdonald) regarded him as acting on behalf of the Government. He thought that whether obstruction was by long or short speeches, it was still obstruction, if the effect was to defeat the reading of a Bill. He could not willingly consent to the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to postpone the Orders of the Day, unless the right hon. Gentleman would give him and the House an assurance that some opportunity should be afforded for a division being taken on his Bill, so that those who were most deeply interested in it would be able to judge what was the opinion of the House of Commons upon it. He held that no Bill in point of importance had been discussed that Session. They could spend their time on the veriest trifles, but when such matters came before them they could be shunted at once. Petitions numerously signed were thus ignored, and the demands of the wealthy producers fully snuffed out.

MR. MILLS rose to a point of Order. The hon. Member was not speaking to any question before the House.


ruled that the hon. Member was not in Order in discussing the merits of the Bill.


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether he was prepared to consider the obstruction on his side of the House? It was of the greatest importance they had full information on the subject. The country wanted to know what was to be done on the subject, and they should know from the Leader of the House what they were to expect.


said, that what occurred on the previous day raised a most important question. [Cries of "Order!"] He was going to explain that there was a distinct Motion before the House that all the Orders of the Day subsequently to the second reading of the Public Works Loans Bill should be postponed, and amongst the Bills that would thus be postponed was that of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald), which was talked out on the preceding afternoon; and, therefore, he was clearly in Order, in making remarks with the view of showing that the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not be assented to, because it would place the Bill of his hon. Friend in a worse position than, it would otherwise occupy. He did not say that he was a supporter of the Bill of the hon. Member for Stafford, but it was a Bill in which great interest was taken out-of-doors; and some consideration ought to be paid to a measure so deeply affecting the interests of the working classes. The speeches in the debate were unusually short, practical, and pertinent to the point, and what took place was unusual. If the proceedings which had taken place yesterday were sanctioned by the House, and unless Government took some step to prevent a repetition of them, what would be virtually said would be that obstruction on the other side of the House was triumphant, and there was not the smallest chance of the Bills introduced by private Members reaching a stage in which the opinion of the House might be ascertained upon them. Talking out a Bill was fatal to the privileges of private Members. The hon. Member for Stafford, and the many people out-of-doors who took a deep interest in this question, had a right to know what was the opinion of the House upon it. If anyone would take the trouble to look at the Order Book, he would find that every Wednesday, up to the end of the Session, was absolutely blocked; and, under these circumstances, he thought the hon. Member and the public had a right to complain of any measure which had been fully discussed being talked out by a Government Supporter. If the Government had intimated to the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. Bulwer) the slightest wish that he should not talk out the Bill, it would not have been done. To prevent a repetition of such a course, some Representative of the Government ought to rise in his place and discourage these proceedings on the part of their Supporters, and express regret that a discussion on the question was evaded as it was. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for Stafford was perfectly right in making a protest, and was entitled not only to press for a declaration on the part of the Government, as to what had been done, but, also, considering the unusual interest taken in the subject out-of-doors, to ask that the Government should afford him an opportunity for bringing forward the Bill on a future occasion.


wished to contribute what he could to the present discussion of a very important question of procedure, but he entirely disclaimed any intention of casting blame on the Government. He could not think the blame was due to the Government, and he was even sanguine enough to expect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or some other Member of the Government, would express regret at what had taken place, and disavowal of the proceeding. But when they came to speak of the proceedings in themselves, they could not be too strongly characterized. The operation of talking out was, at the best, a doubtful operation, and a more objectionable method of getting rid of a subject in which a very great number of persons—not those most directly or powerfully represented in that House—felt deeply interested, it was impossible to conceive. He should have thought it would have been very difficult to find any Member of the House to undertake the odious service. ["Oh, oh!"] He had not used the words hastily, and he adhered to them. It was an odious service, with respect to a Bill of such a nature by such means, and he was astonished that there should be a difference of opinion on the subject. It appeared as if the hon. and learned Gentleman who undertook that service really lagged at every sentence, and had nothing whatever to offer on the merits of the Bill. But to this extent the House would go, whether it was an odious service or not—it was a very inexpedient practice, and one which ought not to be encouraged in such cases. Considering what had been said of the efforts of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford, the great difficulties in which he was placed, and the circumstances which did occur, he hoped that some engagement would be given by the Government. He understood that there was a pledge on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General to introduce his own Bill; and if he should introduce it as a Government measure, the hon. Member, it was to be presumed, would have fair opportunity of placing his Bill in contraposition to the Government plan, so that his case was not so bad as it would have been. But he (Mr. Gladstone) wished to exempt the Government from any charge in respect to what had happened. It was within his knowledge that his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) did receive a communication from the Attorney General during the debate, requesting him to keep his remarks within as brief a compass as he could—which he (Mr. Gladstone) understood to have been an honourable engagement on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman to contribute what he could towards obtaining a division. At the same time, he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would take care, whether by the presentation of their own plan or otherwise, to give the fullest opportunity for bringing to an issue a question of so much importance in which an important section of the public were so much interested.


hoped the House would bear with him on behalf of the Government, while he remarked that the right hon. Member for Greenwich was correct in saying that he (the Attorney General) had given a pledge to introduce a Bill on the subject, and that pledge he intended to redeem. When that was done, the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) undoubtedly would have an opportunity of bringing his particular views on this subject before the House, and get the House to adopt them if he could. [Mr. BRIGHT: This Session?] This Session. With regard to the proceedings of yesterday, he must say he was particularly desirous of saying what he had to say on the subject before that period after which he could say nothing. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London was also anxious to speak, and he (the Attorney General) received a communication from him that if he would delay his rising for a short time, he would not occupy much of the time of the House. He accordingly did so. He had not very much time left. He thought he began at a quarter-past 5, and he ended at 25 minutes to 6. There were 10 minutes left for other Gentlemen to explain their views to the House. That was sufficient time for hon. Members to explain their views; but nearly the whole of it was occupied by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster). [Mr. GLADSTONE: Five minutes.] He was bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman's observations were very short and very much to the purpose. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) made remarks which were well calculated to raise a desire in the minds of some hon. Members to answer them, because he made remarks with reference to judicial decisions which were not highly complimentary to the tribunals of the land. He (the Attorney General) was not astonished, therefore, that an hon. and learned Gentleman who was a Member of the Select Committee on the subject was particularly anxious to explain his views, and to answer the right hon. Gentleman. The Government had nothing whatever to do with the Bill of the hon. Member for Stafford being talked out; the fact being, that they were anxious that a decision upon it should be obtained.


, after the strong observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), wished, in the absence of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Bulwer), but without concert with him—as he had no thought that this matter would have arisen—to offer an explanation which would, he was sure, acquit his hon. and learned Friend of all blame. During the debate of yesterday, his hon. and learned Friend was in constant communication with him, and, early in the day, he rose once or twice to address the House, having, as a Member of the Select Committee, had some responsibility in connection with certain legal questions which were involved in the inquiry, but failed to get the desired opportunity. Later in the day, feeling that by getting up he might jeopardize the Bill, his hon. and learned Friend refrained, until he was provoked into speaking by what fell from the right hon. Member for the University of London. And it was solely in consequence of that right hon. Gentleman's remarks that he was induced to rise, because he thought some censure had been cast on those who had urged their views as to the exisiting state of the law before the Select Committee. He hoped that those who had the impression that there was, on his hon. and learned Friend's part, any intention to talk out the Bill, would accept, in his absence, the explanation which, without his consent, he had taken the liberty of making.


said, he accepted fully and absolutely everything the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Rodwell) had just said, and felt quite sure that on the part of the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich there had been no intention to obstruct the Bill. The observations which he (Mr. Gladstone) had made, he admitted were quite erroneous, and he regretted having used them.


, while sympathizing deeply with the friends of the Bill in thinking it was unfairly talked out, thought it hardly lay with the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) to denounce a policy of obstruction, seeing that that hon. Gentleman had himself the other evening carried out a policy of obstruction against the Irish Sunday Closing Bill.

MR. MACDONALD rose to speak, but was called to Order.


The hon. and learned Member for Louth is in possession of the House.


said, he had been astonished at seeing his hon. Friend in some of the obstructive divisions the other evening; and, now that his hon. Friend had trouble brought to his own door, it was to be hoped he would receive a lesson.


asked the hon. and learned Member for Louth to study the division list again, and then to state on what authority he made that accusation against him of obstructing the progress of the Irish Sunday Closing Bill.


was sorry his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Sullivan) should appear to advocate a policy of retaliation with regard to such an important Bill as that of his hon. Friend the Member for Stafford. He did not think that hon. Members over whom the Government had control should offer obstruction, and he considered that the complaint of the hon. Member was justified. But the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would postpone other Bills than the measure of the hon. Member for Stafford. One of those Bills was the Parliamentary Franchise Bill, which had been read a second time, and as to which an hon. Member on the other side had put down a Notice, in order to prevent the House from going into Committee on that Bill. This kind of obstruction was as bad as talking out, and they were justified in asking that the Government should try to get rid of it.


observed, that after what had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge shire (Mr. Rodwell), it must be felt that there was nothing intentionally unfair in what had happened yesterday, however much it was to be regretted. The statement of the hon. and learned Attorney General was satisfactory so far as it went; but he hoped the Government would give the hon. Member for Stafford an opportunity of bringing forward this Bill again, as there was a large number of working men in the country who were anxious that the House should express its opinion on the principle it contained.


hoped that full opportunity would be given to discuss the Indictable Offences Bill in its first stage.


thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer might properly devote a portion of his time during the Easter Recess to the question of the desirability of introducing a Bill for the purpose of regulating the offence of Parliamentary obstruction, and defining what was and what was not obstruction; for otherwise, on every occasion when the Chancellor of the Exchequer brought forward a Motion similar to that which they were discussing, they ran the risk, in an Assembly where this method of obstruction was almost constantly in use by various Members on both sides, sometimes even by Members of the Government, and sometimes, though not so often as he could wish, by the front Opposition bench—of losing their time in debating whether an independent Member had or had not exceeded his Parliamentary right. For his own part, as everybody had something to complain of, he had to complain of the conduct of the Government the other night, in aiding and abetting in the counting-out of the House, when his (Mr. Parnell's) Bill with reference to the Purchase of Church Lands stood upon the Orders for consideration, and also of the manner in which other measures brought in by Irish Members were impeded. He hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he gave a day to the hon. Member for Stafford, would also afford facilities to the hon. and learned Member for Kildare.


said, that he would not detain the House, for it was not the wish of the Government that more time should be spent in the somewhat peculiar discussion into which the House had drifted, though some profit might perhaps be derived from some of the observations which had been made upon the various forms of obstruction which were, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, adopted in that House. He only wished to say a word or two with regard to his Motion, and it would be observed that Thursdays were always given to Government Business, and that he had only proposed one piece of Government Business should precede another. He did not think that proposal could possibly affect the rights of private Members. No doubt, there were many Orders on the Paper, of which some might conceivably be reached; but many of them were there because the Wednesday Business had been left incomplete, and the others were those of which the Government Business would necessarily take precedence, and which had hardly any chance of coming on. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) would give the Government credit for sincerely regretting that a Bill so important as his should not have had the decision of the House; but the result was not owing to any action taken by the Government, who did all they could to shorten the debate; and, after the explanation which had been given by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, and the remarks of the hon. Member for Hackney and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, the hon. Member and the House would see that there had been no deliberate intention of talking out the Bill. The Home Secretary, too, had been in his place all the afternoon, and had abstained from speaking on the Bill lest the time should prove insufficient. The Attorney General had given Notice that he would be prepared to introduce a Bill on the subject, and he did not think that more could be expected of the Government.

Motion agreed to.