HC Deb 11 July 1879 vol 248 cc228-49

PROCEEDING OF THE HOUSE further resumed.

Question proposed, That the words' Notice having been taken, while the House was in Committee, of the presence in one of the side Galleries of a gentleman engaged in taking notes of the proceedings of the Committee; and Mr. Speaker having informed the House that the gentleman was an officer of the House, and was so employed under his direction, and that the notes taken by him were for the confidential information of the Speaker, this House is of opinion that Mr. Speaker was justified in the directions given by him, and is entitled to the support and confidence of this House,' be added, instead thereof.


I beg to propose as an Amendment to the said proposed Amendment to leave out all the words after "this House," in line 7, in order to insert the words— Declares that the practice of this House prescribes that the Clerk Assistant do not take any notes here without the precedent directions and commands of the House, but only of the Orders and Reports made in the House, and that the entry of the Clerk of particular men's speeches was without warrant at all times. After the Division, Sir, which was taken in the early part of the day, I should not have thought it desirable to test the opinion of this House upon this question any further, but that I do not think the issue raised by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and by the original Motion now negatived, puts the question before the House in distinct and unmistakable terms. Instead of drafting a Resolution in my own terms, I have taken the words from previous solemn declarations of the House, which hon. Members opposite will, therefore, either have in terms to negative, or in terms to endorse. I find, Sir, from reference to Hatsell's Precedents, that on the 17th of April, 1628, one of those musty precedents, which hon. Gentlemen opposite will now have to destroy— That the entry of the Clerk of particular Members' speeches was without warrant at all times. Now, that is a declaration of the House, which, of course, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, and the noble Lord the Member for the Radnor Boroughs, and of other hon. Gentlemen, has probably become musty. Therefore, the sooner it is removed from our precedents the better the noble Lord and other hon. Gentlemen will be pleased. The Amendment I propose will enable them distinctly to destroy this musty precedent. I find that Hatsell also declares in terms— That the Clerk ought to take notes of nothing but Orders and Reports of the House. This, also, is a precedent, which the sooner it is destroyed the easier we shall get on with our new mode of conducting Business. On the 25th of April, 1640, it was—I think this has been quoted, before, and it is the last time it will be quoted in this House, because it is to be destroyed—that our Predecessors solemnly ruled— That their Clerk Assistant do not take any notes here without the precedent directions and commands of this House, but only Reports or Orders made in the House. Now, we have introduced new precedents from to-day, and I am desirous that hon. Members shall in terms, by their votes, destroy this precedent. This is—in 1640—of course, a very old and musty precedent. No doubt, this matter is a very serious one, and it is no good cloaking from ourselves that the proposition to which I invite the House is, more or less, in the nature of a censure on the Chair. I very deeply regret to have to vote censure upon the Chair, or to propose an Amendment which means the same thing. However, I do feel very decidedly, with all respect to yourself, Sir, and the position which you occupy that on this occasion you have exceeded the powers which you up to yesterday possessed, though, probably, if you acted in the same manner this evening, you would not exceed your powers, after the vote of to-day. I find, on the 9th April, 1620, another musty precedent, which we will clear away— That the Speaker is but the servant of the House, and not the master nor the master's mate, and ought to respect the meanest Member as well as those about the Chair. The respect of every Member also probably means that every Member will respect the Chair. ["Hear, hear!"] Well, for myself, I yield to none of the hon. Members who call "Hear, hear! "in respect to the Chair, and I yield to none of them in respect for the precedents of this House. But I do not believe it is properly within the function of the Chair to destroy this precedent without the authority of the House; and that is the reason why, very briefly, I shall ask the House, by negativing my Resolution, to destroy these musty old precedents. Now, Sir, several speakers to-day suggested that the action of which complaint has been made was merely one for which no precedent could be found against it, but that it was not against precedent. I really think the quotations which I have read from the Journals of the House prove distinctly that it was a distinct violation of precedents; that it was, in terms, a violation of the Ordinances of the House. If those Orders, by being observed for 200 or 300 years, by never having been deviated from during that time, have thereby become obsolete, then, of course, the proceeding was within the function of Mr. Speaker to carry out; but if a precedent, the longer it is observed the stronger it becomes, then, the fact that for 200 years it has never been departed from, so far would make it deserving to be treated with respect, on the ground of the traditions of this House, as well as the liberties of hon. Members. And there was a certain amount of want of candour in the way in which it was discussed to-day. In the explanation with which you favoured the House, and which has been put into print, in order that there shall be no mistake made about it, you frequently and distinctly declared that you adopted exceptional courses, in order to meet exceptional circumstances. That, of course, was entirely the fact; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained that it was merely carrying out a system which had been in force ever since 1850. [" No, no!"] I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say so; and the noble Lord the Member for the Radnor Boroughs distinctly took up the same inference from the speech, and stated that this had been a practice which had continued in operation since 1850. I think the explanation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was certainly calculated to leave that impression on the minds of hon. Members. That, no doubt, was contrary to the fact that it was only introduced within the last day or two. I do not intend to trouble the House with any long speech on this Motion. I am only desirous to put the matter plainly and distinctly before the House. If these old Privileges are to be abolished, if these precedents are to be swept away, let them be swept away in terms; and let the hon. Gentlemen who voted against the Resolution of my hon. Friend the Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) vote also, in terms, to destroy these old musty precedents quoted in my Resolution. I was desirous to bring this matter forward; but I have done so very briefly, and will give to hon. Members, as soon as they desire it, a Division on the question, for it is not my desire to obstruct other Business on the Paper for tonight. I have never stood up to speak against time, or to interfere with the Business on the Paper. I simply place a plain issue before the House, to vote "Aye "or "No "upon it. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, To leave out from the words "this House," in line 7 of the proposed Amendment, to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "declares that the practice of this House prescribes that the Clerk Assistant do not take any notes here without the precedent directions and commands of the House, but only of the Orders and Reports made in the House, and that the entry of the Clerk of particular men's speeches was without warrant at all times,"—(Mr. Gray,) —instead thereof.

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


I had hoped, after the crushing majority of this morning, a majority more decisive than any I ever remember, that my hon. Friends below me would have been content with spoiling, if not our temper, at least our dinner and our digestion, and would have allowed this matter to pass; particularly as the result of bringing this Motion forward will not be to obstruct Government Business, but to obstruct the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don). It has, however, been thought necessary to renew the challenge; and I suppose we must meet it. I am bound to say of this charge that I do not think I ever saw so great a hubbub about so small a matter. This Liberal ocean into tempest tossed, To waft a feather, or to drown a fly. The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) referred to 1640, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) confesses his readiness to go to the Tower, and to follow the example of Pym and Hampden. Why, he might as well express readiness to be hung, drawn, and quartered on Temple Bar. Is there, in the whole of Europe, a single legislative or deliberative Assembly, the Rules of which are so free, and offer so much liberty of discussion, as those of this House? I will ask, again, is there a single Legislative Assembly which sits under so beneficial and mild a rule as yours? I think, if my hon. Friends had a taste of the iron rule of M. Gambetta, they would soon find out the difference. Then, why is this debate to be prolonged? I am not like the hon. Member for Stoke (Dr. Kenealy), or the hon. and learned Baronet opposite (Sir George Bowyer), and I do not pretend to be a Constitutional lawyer; in fact, I do not know what that is; but I have had the honour of sitting in this House nearly 11 years, and I have always understood that the ruling of Mr. Speaker upon questions of internal management or arrangement was a thing supreme, and could not be questioned. You have given your explanation, Sir, and, I may say, a fairer or more straightforward explanation I have never heard; and we are bound to receive it. I say we are accustomed—even hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway are accustomed—to associate the honour and fair name of the House of Commons with the honour and fair name of Mr. Speaker; and in supporting your authority we are supporting the authority of the House of Commons. Then, what are they afraid of? Surely, they are crying out before they are hit. When this "terrorism" is sought to be exercised, then, and not till then, it will be time for them to speak. In the meantime, as I do not want to prolong the debate, I will only say this—that it will be a bad day for this country, and a bad day for England, and, allow me to add, a bad day for Ireland, when the authority of the Chair, particularly on a question of this kind, comes to be called in question.


During the progress of this debate, I have been rather startled by some propositions laid down by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian), who spoke earlier this evening, laid it down that if a Division were against the minority the minority should not consider whether it was right or wrong, or in Order, and should not ask for any further decision on the question for all time to come. That was his experience of 26 or 27 years of Parliamentary life; but, surely, the hon. Gentleman must have occupied his time very strangely, if he does not know that all the great questions have been carried, ultimately, after having been supported by very small minorities at the early stages of the proceedings. With reference to the practical question before us to-night, we have been treated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the noble Lord who leads the Whigs, to a false issue. The issue is not whether we have confidence in you; but whether, by the advice of certain parties, you introduced a new system without asking the sanction of the House? The question of reporting in this House was discussed at some length in the House last Session, and the House refrained from giving any decision on that question; and for that reason I think it is still more undesirable to introduce any new system without asking the consent of the House.


In this cricket week, when so many hon. Members have been studying cricket, a little anecdote may illustrate what has brought about a good deal of debate. I was once talking to a gentleman acquainted with an hon. Member in this House, at that time rising into some public notoriety, and in the course of conversation I was told he was a hard hitter, a good block, a bold twister, but that he always quarrelled with the umpire. I cannot help thinking that there is a little desire to quarrel with the umpire in the whole of these proceedings.


We are talking of proceedings of this House not open to hon. Members. We have the reports of Hansard, and any Member can correct any speech he may make. Then, again, we have the reports in the public Press, and any Member may correct errors in the public Press; but if we have an official Report here, of which we are kept in the dark, and it is not open to Members of this House, in future, some extraordinary sentiments might be produced and attached to individuals which they never uttered at all. One other remark I wish to make. I think it unfortunate that the authorities of this House should, at any time, take any course which serves only to produce irritation in the House, and which does not control whatever evil may be complained of, and which even does not tend to control that evil. According to these views I have voted, and fully explained the vote I am about to give.


I quite understood that there was no objection whatever to produce those Notes which were taken; and, therefore, that is a complete answer to my hon. Friend (Mr. Jacob Bright). I do not rise to prolong this discussion, because I think this House is anxious to proceed to Business; but reference has been made by several speakers to those Members who sit below the Gangway, and, therefore, I just wish to say, as one who generally occupies that position, that 1 believe that the great majority who sit here entirely agree with the rest of the House in the decision which they have already come to.


I wish to say a very few words. I think it is necessary to take notice of an observation or two which has fallen from a hon. Member below the Gangway, because I think he misunderstood a reference or two I made to another Book, which has been kept for the last 30 years, or thereabouts, and which I mentioned in answer to the Motion of the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell). It seemed to imply, though it was impossible to refer to all precedents, that no Notes should be taken in this House, except the Notes which, are taken on the Table, and are circulated in the morning. I did not refer to those Notes which are taken, and have been taken for the last 30 years, as being an exact precedent for what is done, but in order to show that it had been the habit for many years to take Notes, which are not circulated with the Notes in the morning, and I referred to them, and mentioned that these Books did contain very much the same amount of information as I understood from the description that the Notes recently taken contained. ["No!"] Then, these Notes contain something more. Well, the hon. Member for Dundalk (Mr. Callan) afterwards obtained one of these Books—not the one I was quoting from—the only one I had seen of the date of 1850—and he mentioned, what was quite correct with regard to it—that it contains the name of every speaker, and it contains the hour at which he rose and sat down, and, therefore, that, of course, showed the hours and minutes he spoke. I believe the later Books do not contain all these particulars. The information I quoted is from the early Books; and some others I have since seen contain a record of the time for which every Member spoke. The hon. Member for Dundalk also observed that some speeches he had recently made were not referred to; but, as I understand, this Book was kept only of the proceedings of this House, and not of the Committee. It appears that, of the Notes recently taken, the first are taken during the Sitting of the House, and are convenient as showing what Members have spoken in the debate, and, therefore, showing what Members have a right to speak. The question I raised was not a question whether the proceedings to which attention had been drawn was a mere continuation of that practice; but I pointed out it was not correct to say that there was no other form in which Notes were taken, except these Notes which are taken and printed. I do not think it is at all necessary to go into any further discussion; but I would point out that, in the Amendment placed on the Paper, I do distinctly raise the question whether Mr. Speaker was or was not justified in the directions given, and I maintain he was so justified. I understand the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) to propose to condemn these words, and to declare point blank that he was not justified. I do not at all object to that issue; I think it is right and proper to raise it, for there can be no doubt, if my Amendment is adopted, that the House will declare that such Notes as these now taken may be legitimately taken at the orders of Mr. Speaker, and that the House approves and sanctions such proceedings. I think there can then be no complaint as to ambiguity. I have endeavoured by rising at once in this way to go to the matter of which complaint has been made, and distinctly to ask the House to justify that proceeding. I do not see how that can be called evasion, and I hope we shall have a clear verdict upon the question.


I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has taken the earliest opportunity to remove the injurious effect which my explanation and his statement must have caused. A statement made to-day was incorrect, and, in almost every particular, misleading, and it does not become the Leader of this House flippantly to make such a statement before this House. ["Oh, oh!"] Flippantly, I say, as to the character of documents which he is now obliged to confess he did not examine, except by casually looking into a Book placed before him. Casually looking at the Book, also, I saw it was incorrect; and when I brought it down I saw—for I have a fairly retentive memory—that there were no entries made when this House was sitting in Committee, while these of which we now complain are taken in Committee. There are two points to which I wish to allude—first, the Resolution proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is, in very fact, the opposite to the statement you made that the documents are open for any hon. Member, and that if anyone thought fit to move for them, you would ask the House to grant them as an unopposed Return. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, after hearing that statement, thought fit to trammel and fetter your discretion by a Resolution that these Notes are for your confidential information. If only for your information, the purpose for which they are taken is not yet revealed, and I regret some person on the Government or front Opposition Bench has not been authorized by others who have not a right to speak in this House to state that the rumour to which I alluded last night is incorrect. I had hoped that the Chief Clerk at the Table would have authorized some Member of the Government, or some Members of the front Opposition Bench, to state that no use has been made of these Notes; that no consultation has been held upon them for the purpose of adopting measures against Members of this House. That is the gravamen of the charge, that the Notes have been inspected by the Clerk at the Table, and that other paid officers have been consulted as to what steps should be taken for indicting Members of this House for their conduct in this House. I hope, for his own honour and independence, he will give that statement contradiction.


I think the charge made is most unfounded. The hon. Member for Dundalk (Mr. Callan) accuses the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom everyone, irrespective of Party, must desire to maintain in his position, of having made a most flippant statement. That is a phrase which I confess I think is one which the hon. Member, if he had consulted his own self-respect, ought not to have addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who transacts his Business before the faces of all of us, will, I am quite sure, feel when such a charge is brought against him that it is totally unfounded. But with regard to the particular circumstances of the matter with respect to which the language was used, what was the statement made by him with reference to the Notes which for a series of years have been taken with regard to what passes in this House? [" Divide, divide !"] I beg the attention of the House to this point, because it is necessary to be considered, in order that the nature of the charge, and the facts with regard to the previous history of the Notes taken in this House may be thoroughly understood. For nearly 30 years it has been the practice that Notes should be taken, not of all debates, or of all proceedings, but of most of the principal debates which have occurred in the House, as distinguished from proceedings in Committee. It is quite true that these Notes have not been taken with regard to proceedings in Committee, and have not been taken with regard to all the proceedings in this House; but with reference to the Notes being taken occa- sionally and not continuously, I may point out to that fact as furnishing a complete answer to the statement made by the hon. Member for Dundalk, early in the day, by which he professed to be able to point out numerous deficiencies in these Notes, which he said he had compared with various proceedings within his own experience. [Mr. CALLAN: I made no such statement.] If I am in Order, I am in the recollection of the House, when I say the hon. Member for Dundalk did make a reference to these Notes being imperfect. The explanation of that supposed imperfection is that these Notes were taken, not in Committee or on all occasions, but were taken only during actual debates of importance in this House. I myself have had the opportunity of referring to these Notes. They consist of a list of speakers with a list of the hours at which they rose, and, occasionally, there are notes—brief notes—which refer to some matters which are supposed to be of some use to Mr. Speaker. These Notes were taken solely for the benefit of Mr. Speaker himself; and to enable him to preserve a record in the cases in which they were taken of the debates before him in the House. I quite agree that none of them refer to the proceedings in Committee; but they are of essentially the same character as the Notes which have now been taken in Committee; and you, Sir, were pleased to inform the House, when the matter was called in question—on having your attention brought to the fact that the proceedings on the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill did occupy an extraordinary amount of time—that you desired, for your own information, to know what was occurring. With regard to the position of the Speaker during Committees, there is this most important observation to be made—that when Mr. Speaker leaves the Chair, though generally he is believed to be, and during long Committees is, absent from the House, yet, very frequently, during brief Committees, he sits on the Treasury Bench. He is, however, in theory, always supposed to be present, and by the Rules is entitled to resume the Chair to decide any point which suddenly arises, or requires his interposition to preserve Order. It follows that, as Mr. Speaker is himself supposed to be present, he is supposed to be cognizant of everything that goes on and when any question arises, without any special report made to him, to know what is occurring. No doubt, when the Committee confirms a Resolution, the Committee reports that vote to Mr. Speaker, not for his personal information, but to him as the Representative of the House. The Committee reports, and when Mr. Raikes reports to Mr. Speaker he represents the Committee in making a formal Report of the proceedings to Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker then communicates it to the House, and the House makes an Order with regard to the order of the proceedings. That is entirely different from his knowledge of what goes on as a Member of this House, and also different from his knowledge, occupying the highest position as he does, of what goes on in Committee. If I am not wearying the House, I may refer to a very important statement made in April, 1814, on the question of the speech made by the Speaker of that day. The question there arose as to what was the position of the Speaker with regard to the Committee. Now, if I may be permitted, without wearying the House, to read a few words from the debate I should like to do so, because they deal with a most, important matter—namely, the exact position of Mr. Speaker with regard to the House itself. Of course, in all my observations I do not refer to Select Committees and Committees upstairs, but to Committees of the Whole House. On the 22nd of April, 1814, the then Speaker (Mr. Abbot), in his address to the House, discussed the technical objection that the Speaker can know nothing of what passes in a Committee, either as to the proceeding or as to the reasons on which the proceeding is founded. That was the objection taken. The answer made by Mr. Speaker Abbot was, that it was strictly his duty to be there "as Speaker," and to be cognizant of all that passes, although, by indulgence, his absence may be excused— And it is so much his duty to be present that, if necessary, he may (as has happened in my own time), upon his own observation of what is passing, and upon his own responsibility take the Chair 'as Speaker' without the leave of the House, to put an end to any disorder that may arise in the Committee."—[1 Hansard, xxvii.483.] I will not read further; but that proves that Mr. Speaker is as a Member of the House, and is also, "as Speaker," conscious of everything that goes on in Committee. Physically, it is impossible for Mr. Speaker, with his onerous duties, to remain here during the many hours we are in Committee. It would be a most intolerable burden to place on him, in addition to the enormous Public Business which weighs upon him, and has to be transacted every Session, that he should also be present during the whole of the proceedings of every Committee. Therefore, he is perfectly justified, on the most technical grounds, for his own information, in obtaining these Notes which have been taken of proceedings in Committee. Now, the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) produced, with a great deal of ceremony and emphasis, precedents which rather chime in with us on this side. He inferred from some cheers which he heard that we thought them musty precedents of no value. I say that I entertain the highest respect—no one can entertain a higher respect than I do—for precedents, especially precedents with regard to the proceedings of this most ancient and honourable Assembly. But the precedents with which we are acquainted all prove that although, from time to time, there have arisen difficulties in maintaining the discipline of the House and in carrying on the Public Business, yet, from time immemorial, the House has always asserted its authority over individual Members, and invariably, in the end, notwithstanding many difficulties and much delay, has proved successful. With regard to the particular precedents cited, there was one on the 17th April, 1628. All I understand that to refer to is that the Clerk at the Table is not to take a shorthand note of everything which occurs in this Sitting. I want to ask the hon. Member how is that applicable to the present case? Because the complaint is that a verbatim report is not taken. We are told that if we were to have a verbatim note taken of our proceedings, and these Notes were published, hon. Members opposite would be only too delighted, as there would then be a full report to the nation of all that took place here. They would be right glad, they say, to challenge the House to the issue that everything they have done has been entirely justified by the motive which actuated them, or by the object; but I say all this is totally inapplicable to what we are now considering. If the Clerks were to begin taking Notes of particular speeches, then it is possible that that precedent, if antiquated and old, yet none the less worthy of respect now than it was at that time—that that precedent might be put in force. But I should like to know what pretence there is for suggesting that any officer of the House of Commons is taking Notes of particular Member's speeches? The complaint is that they do not do it; but that merely a Note is taken of the names and number of times that hon. Members rise, and the time they occupy, not of what they say. No attempt has been made to go into the details of this precedent. But I believe it will be found that the precedent of 1628 was the time when shorthand notes were coming into vogue, and were extremely popular. We have preserved to us diaries taken by Members at that period. I can point also to law books, in which are contained verbatim reports of the proceedings which took place in those days. These, then, were the first times that verbatim reports were introduced, and, no doubt, the complaint was that the Clerk at the Table was exercising his skill as a shorthand writer in taking down particular speeches, and not attending to the duties incumbent upon him of recording the Orders of the House. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, I think that may be so. The next precedent referred to is the 25th April, 1640—we do not come to these precedents in order of dates, but quite promiscuously—and that is that the Clerk Assistant do not take any Note of the proceedings of the House, except with the sanction of the House. Now, as I understand it, that was a precedent of the same description as that of the 17th April, 1628. It was, of course, immediately after the meeting of the Long Parliament in the reign of Charles I. It was immediately upon that assembling, and I have no doubt it was merely a repetition of the precedent of 1628, and was to prevent the Clerk from doing that which would interfere with his ordinary avocations. It merely said the Clerk Assistant; it did not refer to the Clerk. Another precedent referred to was the 9th March, 1620, which will go back to James I. There, as I understand, the precedent is thus laid down that Mr. Speaker was bound to respect every Member of this House. I appeal to both sides of the House, and to all sections of the House, confidently, whether our Mr. Speaker does not most impartially respect every Member? It is quite clear that in the time of James I., 1620, that that was a time when most violent struggles were going on with regard to Imperial, Constitutional, and social questions; and I have not the slightest doubt that the origin of that Rule had no reference whatever to a gentleman in the Gallery taking an occasional memorandum with regard to those persons who might address the House, but was addressed to some act indicating a supposed partiality of the Speaker with regard to different quarters of the House, or to different Members of the House and the Government. That precedent merely was that Mr. Speaker is bound to respect every Member, and to afford to him, whether seated below Mr. Speaker or above him, according to the old arrangement of places, fair respect. I ask the House, in confidence, what is the value of these precedents? I say that if they were in point and useful I should be the first to advocate their being upheld. But I say they have nothing whatever to do with the present subject. To bring forward this Resolution is to give the entire go-by to the main question put forward, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Amendment proposed, and to attempt to raise a false issue, having nothing to do with the present question. That question, as I venture to say, is of the very simplest description. Although the matter is a very small one, it is capable of being looked at from a high Constitutional point of view. I apprehend everyone in this House must be interested in preserving the ancient and historic grandeur, splendour, and reputation of this House. It is the one historic and ancient House which, through evil and through good repute, and under every opposition and difficulty, through popular agitation or popular indifference, has always managed to preserve that freedom of debate and that moderation of conduct which ought to characterize a great national Assembly. I venture to say that we may appeal to our ancient position, as showing that no Assembly in the whole history of the world has ever been formed, which combined full liberty with thorough efficiency, better than is attained in this House of Commons; and I think we may congratulate ourselves that on the present occasion Mr. Speaker has been supported by a majority, showing that confidence in him which his conduct hitherto most unquestionably has deserved from everybody in the House. I trust that the Amendment will be rejected by a very overwhelming majority.


Sir, I do not want to bring any charge of flippancy against any Member on the Ministerial Bench. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the course of the speech which he made, put the matter before the House in a most straightforward and comprehensive manner. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that this has been a very disagreeable debate for all of us; it is certainly a painful pleasure to me to get up and speak upon a question of this kind, after listening to the long debate which we have had; still, this life is full of disagreeable things, and disagreeable things must be borne with. I found it very unpleasant to walk into the Lobby an hour or two before dinner with the minority; but I felt that no other course was open to me. I came down to the House perfectly uncertain as to the course I should adopt in this matter; but I listened to the debate, and, after hearing the arguments on both sides of the question, I formed the opinion that no answer had been given to the Motion of the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell). The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) said that the question was, whether we had or had not confidence in you, Sir? But I think that was hardly a fair way of putting it, because I believe I speak the mind of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, when I say that there is no one of them who has not perfect confidence in you. The question in my view is, whether a certain practice which you sanctioned the other day is a practice which ought to be sanctioned by us or not? I will only say there is one thing I pay more regard to than to you, and that is the truth; and, therefore, I am bound to vote for what I believe to be the truth. I was astonished to hear an argument which has been brought forward to-day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, and by hon. Members on the other side of the House. They insist that we shall not be guided by these old precedents of 200 years ago. But I believe the maintaining of these old-established and well-considered Rules of the House is one of the safeguards of the liberty of the country, and I am convinced that we shall do a very bad day's work indeed when we make any change in them. I say it is just as important to preserve the rights and liberties of any five Members who sit below the Gangway, who may annoy us by dividing over and over again, as it was to preserve the rights and liberties of Members 200 years ago. I thank the House for hearing the few remarks which I have made upon this unpleasant subject. The only honour I hope to enjoy is to be an independent Member of this House, and I am sure I could not be that, unless I took every opportunity of protesting against anything which endangers the liberty of the House.


Sir, I think that the Division which has taken place to-day, of upwards of 400 against 29, ought to be final. We have been told that we are not to talk about ancient and musty precedents as protecting the rights of Members of this House. Now, although I have always relied upon ancient precedents, and would be the last person in the world to speak against them, I feel it is necessary to consider them with reference to the circumstances of the time when those precedents were established. But, Sir, we have had a number of precedents referred to which have nothing whatever to do with the question before the House. The most important of these was that on the occasion of King Charles I. coming into the House, and asking Mr. Speaker Lenthall where certain Members were when Mr. Speaker took that course which was, no doubt, incumbent upon him, and said—" I can see only with the eyes of the House, and I can speak only with the tongue of the House." In saying this, he was, no doubt, perfectly right; but is it meant that, because Mr. Speaker Lenthall refused to answer a question put to him by the King, that you, Sir, have no discretion whatever to give orders with regard to matters affecting the Business and usage of the House? This precedent has nothing to do with the present question. Let us look at the particular case before the House. A Com- mittee of the House was appointed to consider the subject of the Business of the House, and Mr. Speaker was called upon to give evidence before that Committee; Mr. Speaker could not give the Committee that accurate and exhaustive information with regard to the proceedings of the House which it was desirable that he should give, and, therefore, he has considered it expedient and useful, in order to the discharge of the duties of his high Office, to obtain accurate reports of what is taking place in the House. Now, what could be more reasonable than that he should take measures to obtain an accurate, official, and responsible record of the proceedings of the House? It was perfectly right that he should do so. But how can anybody compare this case with the precedent of Mr. Speaker Lenthall, who refused to answer a question put to him by the King, as to where were those Members who had offended him? The case is perfectly irrelevant. I admit that the precedents of the time when the Privileges of the House of Commons were in question are of great importance; but I say that in using those precedents we are bound to consider the circumstances which surrounded them. There was, at the period in question, a contest between the Privileges of Parliament and the Prerogative of the Crown. Parliament then most jealously guarded its Privileges as against the Prerogative of the Crown for this reason—that Members of the House of Commons were sometimes called to account for expressions used by them in the House in the discharge of their duties. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary, at that time, for the liberty of Parliament, that its proceedings should not be published, and it became a Breach of Privilege to publish anything that took place within the House, for the obvious reason that Members could not speak their minds freely, unless they were sure that what they said in Parliament would not reach those authorities who would make them responsible for their utterances. But what is the case now? No one fears the Prerogative of the Crown; and although my hon. Friends opposite have spoken of terrorism, I ask whether terrorism is feared by any one of us, and whether there is a Member of this House who fears to speak his mind freely upon any subject which is brought before Parliament? A Member of this House only fears the authority of the Chair; as long as he is in Order; no Member has any reason to fear, or does fear, to say anything which he considers it his duty to say; and, therefore, he possesses the greatest liberty of speech, without restraint or respect of person. I need not enter into the question of whether unnecessary delays are to occur, or whether remedies are to be used for the purpose of preventing them. It may be useful—no doubt, it is useful—that Mr. Speaker should have accurate statistical information with regard to the proceedings in this House; and I contend that it was in the discretion of Mr. Speaker to decide whether that information was, or was not, desirable and useful. This House is deeply interested in the discharge of the duties of Mr. Speaker, and the Business of the House could not proceed unless these were accurately discharged. Therefore, I maintain that what has been done is not in the interest either of Mr. Speaker or of the Government, but in the interest of the House of Commons. I say that to call it a breach of the Privileges of the House is a most absurd and monstrous proposition. We have gentlemen sitting above us who report the proceedings of the House; the existence of reporters has now become a Constitutional matter, and, contrary to the necessities of former times, we now wish our constituents to know what we are doing; we are responsible to them, and we are obliged to the organs of the Press for making known to them our opinions, our speeches, and our votes. That being so, an essential difference exists between our time and the times when it was necessary to conceal the proceedings of Parliament for the purposes of protecting Members from the power of the Prerogative of the Crown and the Star Chambers, which would have made them responsible for their speeches and votes. Again, it is most monstrous and absurd to say that Mr. Speaker wished to introduce into the House any system of espionage by employing an officer of the House to report what was going on in Committee on the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill. How can there be espionage with regard to what is spoken in the presence of the representatives of the Press and in the presence of strangers in the Gallery? The state- ment is ridiculous. And, now, with regard to the position of hon. Members opposite, I must say that having such a futile and miserable case I recommend them, if they would consult their own dignity and the interest of Ireland, to abandon this topic, and withdraw from the position which they have assumed.


Sir, I will not venture formally to ask you a question with respect to the books now circulating about the House, one of which, called The Speech Book, I have seen; but I wish for some information upon that subject which you may possibly be able to afford. The book which I have seen contains, under various headings and chapters, abstracts of the debates which have taken place in the House whilst you were in the Chair, and attached to these headings there are, in some cases, merely the names of Members who spoke. In other cases there are entries of the time as well as the names, which would afford you information as to the time occupied by particular speakers. It is very important that you should have every information as to the proceedings of the House which you may require; but I ask, why, if the system just now originated is more accurate than the former, it was never adopted before? If, however, the information now obtained is of precisely the same character as that which has been obtained formerly, I ask what is the meaning of the, to my mind, exceedingly objectionable phrase in the Resolution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "For the confidential information of the Speaker? "How long is this information to remain confidential, and is it to remain so until somebody asks a question concerning it, and Mr. Speaker chooses to make answer? I should feel much less difficulty if it was stated that this was a matter for the information of Mr. Speaker which that high officer would use in the House as he pleased. By adopting the word "confidential," we should actually prevent Mr. Speaker, if the Resolution were passed, from making public those reports, and that seems to me a thing which we ought not to sanction. I also desire to know where the records hitherto taken have been kept in former times; have they been kept by the Clerk at the Table, or by some other officer of the House, and are they exactly the same as the records hitherto kept by the Clerk at the Table? Sir, I feel that without the information for which I ask I shall be unable to vote intelligibly upon this Motion.


Sir, in rising to say a few words on the question of precedent, I merely wish to remark that it has appeared to me, in the numerous debates in this House, that there is too great a straining after precedent. We have had to-night a precedent quoted of 240 years old. In railway engineering, one in 240 is considered the angle of repose, and I think the musty precedent of 240 years might very well repose in the musty volume from which it was extracted. If we were to be entirely guided by precedent, where would have been our railways, our steamboats, and our telegraphs? And, if we carry precedent to its natural conclusion we should never have anything new. If the hon. Gentlemen opposite insist upon having a precedent, let them take the unprecedented precedent of this evening's vote and accept that as a precedent for their future guidance.


said, it had been the custom, extending over 30 years, for the Clerk at the Table to take down the names of hon. Members who spoke, and the time during which they spoke. If, therefore, Mr. Speaker was not in the Chair, was there any reason why, for his information, the same course should not be pursued? But now they were taken back to the 17th century for precedents the other way; but that period was not one to which the House of Commons should, in his opinion, look for precedents. In that century there was a struggle between the House in support of its liberties and the Crown; and, naturally, one of the things about which the House was exceedingly careful was that the Crown should not know what was said by individual Members. Happily, all that had passed away. They had now a large number of newspapers reporting each day the speeches of hon. Members; and there was in the House a Gallery set apart for members of the Press. What need had they, then, to go back to the 17th century for guides and precedents? He believed that the country was amazed at the obstruction which had taken place; and he ventured to say that if such a charge were to be brought against the Government, that they had obstructed the Public Business, it would only rebound against hon. Members who had really adopted that course. He also ventured to suggest to hon. Members for Ireland that they should re-consider the policy which they had so long pursued. There were before the House several Bills in which they were interested, among them the Irish Education Bill; and there were also a number of English Bills, such as the Valuation Bill and the County Boards Bill; and it was obvious that if hon. Members from Ireland would give cordial assistance in getting measures through the House, English Members would do all they could to assist them in carrying their own measures. He ventured to hope that hon. Members from Ireland would now make some change in their tactics, and they would find that their time had not been wasted.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 292; Noes 24: Majority 268.—(Div. List, No. 160.)

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put.

Resolved, That Notice having been taken while the House was in Committee, of the presence in one of the side Galleries of a gentleman engaged in taking notes of the proceedings of the Committee; and Mr. Speaker having informed the House that the gentleman was an officer of the House, and was so employed under his direction, and that the notes taken by him were for the confidential information of the Speaker, this House is of opinion that Mr. Speaker was justified in the directions given by him, and is entitled to the support and confidence of this House.