HC Deb 29 July 1879 vol 248 cc1529-33

wished to direct the attention of the House to a matter of Privilege in connection with the Sitting on Friday night and early on Saturday morning last. The Chairman of Committees was in the Chair on Friday night and up to half-past 2 o'clock on Saturday morning, when the Chair was taken by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt). On that occasion the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt) was addressing to the House a very exhaustive speech with regard to savings' banks, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) directed the attention of the Chairman to the fact that 40 Members were not present. The Chairman having counted, and 40 Members having been found to be present, the Business went on as usual; but so anxious were the Government to report Progress that, interrupting the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, the Secretary to the Treasury took the most unusual course of moving "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again." The glass was accordingly turned, the bells were rung, the doors were closed, and the Question again put to the Committee. At the request of some party—he believed, certainly, not at the request of the hon. Gentleman himself—two hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House were named as Tellers for the Government Motion; and, what seemed an unprecedented thing in the annals of the House, when the Division was taken it was found that the Secretary to the Treasury voted with five Cabinet Ministers against his own Motion. Attention was afterward drawn to the matter by the hon. and gallant Member for Water-ford (Major O'Gorman), who then stated that the hon. Gentleman who moved to report Progress voted against his own Motion. It was said that an indictment was being prepared against certain hon. Members for wilful and deliberate obstruction of the Business of the House, and one of the clauses in that indictment, it was believed, was to the effect that the hon. Member for Cavan had voted against a Motion which he had supported in his speeches, or something of that kind. It was, therefore, essential, as a safeguard, that it should be stated in the proceedings of the House that an official Member of the Government—the Secretary to the Treasury—proposed" That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," and within five minutes afterwards voted with the entire Government Bench against his own Motion. That, at all events, was a remarkable circumstance; but it was not all. The Motion to report Progress appeared in the proceedings of the night in question in the Parliamentary Votes, but without the name of the Secretary to the Treasury as Mover of it; and to that fact he wished particularly to direct the attention of the Speaker of the House. He had examined the Records of the House in the Library, and he could say that from the first week of the present Session up to the present day there had not been an omission of a single name from a Motion of the character of that moved by the Secretary to the Treasury. No similar case had been recorded this Session, and he wished it to be considered by the House that, whereas the name of Mr. Parnell had been inserted, the name of the Secretary to the Treasury had been left out from Motions with reference to reporting Progress. It might be that the omission was accidental; but if no correction was made there would be no opportunity for appealing to the Records of Parliament in case of an indictment for wilful obstruction being proceeded with. He did not bring this subject forward yesterday, because he had thought it better to wait and see whether the correction would be made in to-day's Votes. Seeing that that had not been done in the ordinary way, he now appealed to Mr. Speaker to see that the mistake was rectified. He thought he had fulfilled his duty in directing the attention of the House to the extraordinary omission, and he hoped the Clerk would be empowered to make the necessary correction.


Until the hon. Member rose, I was not aware that the name of the Secretary to the Treasury had been accidentally omitted, as the hon. Member has stated, in the Votes delivered yesterday morning. It was, I am assured, a pure accident; and, having ascertained that the name was accidentally omitted, I have given directions that the sheet of the Votes containing the error should be cancelled, and that the proper entry be made in the Votes.


said, he thought it only right to say that he had called the attention of the Clerk to the matter that morning before public attention was directed to it, and he had undertaken to rectify it. As he was concerned in the matter, he wished to say a few words in regard to it. There was considerable confusion at the time when the Division was called, and when the hour-glass was turned in the interval which elapsed during the running of the sand he (Mr. Gray) and some other hon. Members suggested to the Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) that two or three Votes which they believed were unopposed should be taken before Progress was reported. That hon. Gentleman, believing as he (Mr. Gray) believed, that those Votes would provoke no discussion or opposition, did not challenge the Vote when the Question was again put. Other hon. Members, however, did challenge the Motion, it being in the possession of the House, and it was that, and that alone, which he believed led to the confusion and the rather extraordinary scene which followed. He merely desired, as he had a small part in bringing about the confusion, to explain that it was a pure misunderstanding, for which neither the hon. Baronet the Secretary to the Treasury nor anybody else was to blame. That had nothing to do however with the real question as to the completeness of the Parliamentary Record. The Motion was made to the House, and, not being withdrawn, was in possession of the House, and a Division being demanded upon it the name of the proposer of the Motion was not given. He did not think that the explanation which the Speaker had received, that the matter was due to accident, was strictly accurate, because the name was omitted in two places—first, in the Journals of the House, and, secondly, in the Division Lists. He was inclined to believe that if the matter was still further investigated it would be found that the name was deliberately omitted because of the confusion which arose at the time the Motion was put.


said, perhaps the House would allow him to explain what really seemed to be an extraordinary act on his part. He thanked the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) for the explanation he had just given, and which really constituted his excuse for the course he had taken on the occasion referred to. Hon. Members would recollect that when the discussion was going on, after he had moved to report Progress, a strong feeling was expressed that the Committee should proceed for a short time longer in order that certain Votes might be taken. In these circumstances, when the Motion was put by the Chairman, he did not challenge a Vote, because he believed it was the unanimous opinion of the Committee at the time that they should go on. One or two hon. Members did challenge a Division; and he took a course which, perhaps, he ought to have hesitated to take, and which, had he had a little time to think of it, he probably would not have taken. It was not the only instance, he believed, in which the same thing had been done; but if he had thought about it he would perhaps have come to the conclusion that he should be acting more wisely in not voting at all. He was sure the House would believe that he had no wish or desire that there should be any concealment in the matter. He was only too happy to hear from Mr. Speaker that an accidental error in the records of their proceedings, which might possibly mislead, would be rectified; and he trusted the House would believe that what he did was done with no wish or desire to confuse the Business of the House.


said, he wished to make a personal explanation.


said, if the hon. Member desired to make a personal explanation no doubt the House would hear him; but he must point out that any further discussion with no Motion before the House would be out of Order.


wished to explain how he came to be named as a Teller. After the Secretary to the Treasury had moved to report Progress the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), who was then in the Chair, named the Government officials as Tellers for the Motion. Thereupon it appeared that objection was raised on the Treasury Bench to the Government Whips being Tellers, and the Chairman turned to the Clerks at the Table, at whose suggestion he (Mr. Monk) and the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Whitwell) were named. Had Mr. Speaker been in the Chair on the occasion referred to, he (Mr. Monk) would have challenged his nomination as a Teller for the Motion.


said, that irregularities occurred in the best-regulated families; and, seeing that Her Majesty's Government, who were, or ought to be, a well-regulated family, had been guilty of an error, he hoped they would be charitable when private Members committed irregularities.