HC Deb 17 April 1879 vol 245 cc516-8

said, he desired to raise a question affecting the Privileges of the House. On the last day of the Sitting, before the Easter Recess, there was a Motion down in the name of the Secretary of State for the Home Department regarding the Clare Writ; but the right hon. Gentleman was in no great hurry to bring it on, and he postponed it until to-morrow (Friday). The House having adjourned, he (Lord Robert Montagu) was surprised to find from the Order Book that the consideration of the Report of the Select Committee was put down before Supply, and as the first Order of the Day. Many years ago it was the custom to move the adjournment of the House, and on that Motion Members brought forward grievances. The practice was found inconvenient, because it involved a Member rising at the end of a debate and speaking upon a number of questions. A Committee was therefore appointed, and the result was, it was determined that Supply should take the place of the Motion to adjourn, that Supply should be put down as the first Order on Fridays, and that Members should move Amendments to the Motion that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair. In the course of the debate it was prophesied that in a few years the Government would try to take away the rights of private Members by putting down their Orders before Supply, and pledges were therefore given by Mr. Disraeli and Lord Palmerston, each on behalf of his Party, that Supply should always be the first Order of the Day. From that day it had been the first Order; but now the rule or understanding was departed from. It could not be said in excuse that the matter was one of Privilege, for the issue of a Writ did not come within the definition of Privilege given by the best authority on the question, Sir Erskine May, who said, in one of the editions of his book on the Rules and Practice of Parliament, at page 265— Questions of privilege and other matters suddenly arising may be considered without previous notice; and the former take precedence, not only of other motions, but of all orders of the day. But, in order to entitle a question of privilege to precedence, it must refer to some matter which has recently arisen, which directly concerns the privileges of the House, and calls for its present interposition.…Such priority is conceded on the assumption that the earliest opportunity has been taken for bringing such a question before the House which precludes previous notice; and that the dignity of the House demands its immediate consideration.…As precedence is naturally desired by members, care is taken not to extend that claim to any motion which does not strictly relate to a matter of privilege."—[May's Parliamentary Practice, 7th ed. p. 265.] Neither did the case come within the category of questions of Privilege at page 82, which were—1, Disobedience to Orders or Rules of the House; 2, indignities to the character of Parliament; 3, insults to Members or reflections upon their character; and 4, in interference with the officers of the House in the discharge of their duty. In these circumstances, he would ask Mr. Speaker to declare his opinion, Whether the Order in question could take precedence of Supply on Friday or any other night?


The Question of the noble Lord raises this point—Whether the consideration of the Report of the Committee with reference to the issue of the Writ for Clare is to be treated as a matter of Privilege or not? Upon the best consideration I can give to the matter, it appears to me it ought to be so treated, and as such it will necessarily take the first place on the Orders of the Day. I find, upon a former occasion, in 1839, when a Committee was appointed with reference to the question of the issue of a Writ for the borough of Southwark, the Committee made a Report containing Resolutions to the effect that the seat was vacant, whereupon the House at once considered these Resolutions and agreed to them, and the Writ was moved for at once. That course, in this instance, was not taken; but the House thought proper to postpone to a future day the consideration of the Report of the Committee, which, however, does not affect the main point, and I am of opinion that whenever the Report is considered by the House it may be properly treated as a question of Privilege, as affecting the seat of a Member of this House.