HC Deb 27 May 1880 vol 252 cc534-42

in rising to call attention to the insufficiency of the present arrangements for the accommodation of Members in the House; and to move— That the Standing Order of 6th April 1835, with respect to Members' places, be hereby repealed, and that the following he the Standing Order in place thereof:—That any Member might secure a seat by affixing his name himself thereto, and not otherwise, at half-past Three o'clock, and not earlier or afterwards, before the House meets at the usual hour, and not earlier than half an hour before the hour of meeting when the House meets for a morning sitting, provided that the Member so affixing his name be present at prayers; and that Mr. Speaker do give directions to the doorkeepers accordingly, said, hon. Members had gradually fallen into the practice of securing their seats by placing their hats on them. Now, there were only certain parts of the House where an hon. Member had a chance of catching the Speaker's eye or of making himself heard; and it often happened that unless he was able to come very early in the day the seat he desired would be taken. He had himself come down at noon, and found whole rows of seats occupied by hats placed there by Members of Committees sitting upstairs. An hon. Member of his acquaintance used to come down early, place his bat upon a seat, and spend the whole day in the building. Such a precaution, however, was not in the power of hon. Members who had professional or other engagements during the day; and those Gentlemen were, consequently, at a disadvantage. Leaving one's hat upon a seat involved remaining in the precincts of the House the whole day, and to go about with one's head uncovered was in itself no small inconvenience. He was not surprised to hear it whispered that certain hon. Members took the precaution of having two hats. But the present mode of securing seats was intolerable; and he had, therefore, thought it his duty to endeavour to devise another, which he now begged to submit to the House.


pointed out that the Motion of the hon. and learned Member consisted of two parts, which ought to be proposed separately—namely, the repeal of one Standing Order, and the substitution of another.


said, he had expected that would be so. He begged to move the repeal of the Standing Order of the 6th of April, 1835.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Standing Order, 6th April 1835, with respect to Members' places, be read, and repealed,"—(Mr. Serjeant Simon,)

—instead thereof.

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


agreed that the present practice of securing seats by means of hats was intolerable; but it seemed to him that the evil admitted of an easier remedy than his hon. and learned Friend proposed. It was only by courtesy that a seat was secured by a hat being placed upon it. The exceptional abuse that had arisen of late years was one against which the common sense of the House should rebel, and hon. Members ought not to scruple to take a seat on which a bat had been placed by someone else in the hope of securing it. Orders had, he believed, been given to the doorkeepers to remove cards which were placed on the seats, and he thought a similar order ought to be given with regard to hats. A Member had no right to secure a seat by placing a bat upon it some hours beforehand. The doors ought not to be opened until a comparatively short time before the meeting of the House, and then all Members would start fair. In former years he had strongly protested against a Member having a right to occupy a seat until the close of the Sitting; for a Member, after being absent for hours, might on coming back turn out a Gentleman who had been bearing the burden and heat of the evening. When he first came into the House a Member lost his right to a seat by a division. That was a very good Rule, and he was in favour of introducing a similar one to the effect that the right to occupy a seat should only last until the House was empty, so that everybody might start fair again afterwards.


regretted that his hon. and learned Friend had raised the question in these terms. He could not imagine anything more calculated to inconvenience Members, and to produce the impression out-of-doors that the House of Commons was a disorderly mob, than a proposal that the doors should be kept closed until half-past 3 o'clock, and then opened for a crowd of Members to rush in for places. He entirely objected to the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend. They ought not easily to depart from the Standing Orders of the House, which bad been found by experience to promote the comfort and convenience of hon. Members. The proposal of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke), if reduced to common language, was simply to bring into a Parliament, representing in a very remarkable degree the gentlemen of England, a practice which would destroy the ordinary courtesy that existed among them. Hon. Members would not, be hoped, be beguiled even by the high authority of the hon. Baronet. It had been the custom for hon. Members to make arrangements for retaining their seats, and be trusted that custom would continue. Probably a larger number of Members would take part in the debates in this Parliament than in any previous one; but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House bad suggested, they ought to have a little more experience of the new Parliament before anything was done. If, after some further experience, it were found that this House was inconveniently small, he hoped the Government would not hesitate to propose whatever alterations were necessary for the convenience of Members, and for the accommodation of strangers and of the fair sex. They ought to have a House which, instead of being a disgrace to the country, would be a credit to it. In the meantime, he implored the House not to listen to the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend.


said, that if the doors of the House were kept closed until half an hour before the Speaker took the Chair the strongest and biggest men, instead of the most intelligent and hardworking Members, would secure the best seats, while the physically weak Representatives would be found nowhere.


said, that no alteration of the present Chamber would give sufficient convenience to hon. Members. The body of the present House only seated 306 Members, which was less than the number of the Party now on the right of the Speaker's Chair. The consequent inconvenience had been felt over and over again. A Committee was appointed in 1867 to investigate the subject, and their Report would have been acted upon but for the change in the Government. The Report contained a plan to provide 113 additional seats on the floor, not by increasing the length of the House, but by making that particular Chamber into a hall that would form the entrance into a new House of Commons, which would be built in the present Commons' Court. He thought that the manner in which hon. Members were jostled about by the crowd in the Lobby was also a ground of complaint. There was a constant influx of strangers, besides gentlemen reporting for the newspapers, thus preventing anything like confidential communication between Members. There was likewise a necessity for providing increased accommodation within the House, not only for Members, but also for reporters. This was an important matter. The reporting of the proceedings in Parliament was now required to be done as extensively by the Provincial as it was by the London Press. Hon. Members who had only recently come into the House would be surprised to learn that the only persons admitted to the Gallery were the reporters of the London Press. The Provincial Press was becoming so influential that it was not satisfied with that exclusion. The Committee which was appointed to inquire into this subject, and on which he sat, had endeavoured to find some means of increasing the accommodation. All they could recommend was to give up a portion of the two side Galleries, thus, in point of fact, still further reducing the present scanty accommodation for hon. Members. If hon. Gentlemen went to see the small rooms, or rather dens, in which the reporters attending the House transcribed their notes and waited to relieve each other, he was sure they would feel ashamed of those wretched, places. The whole of the alterations that were required could be carried out at a moderate expense; and if the Board of Works would enter into a contract for the purpose, they might by next February have a Chamber in which hon. Members could be decently and comfortably accommodated, without changing the character of the House as a Business Assembly, and not as an arena for rhetorical display.


said, he did not think it would be necessary to refer that matter again to a Committee. He had seen the plans which had been prepared for improving the accommodation of the House, and thought they might be studied with advantage. Until the present Parliament he had never found any difficulty in securing a place in the House; but this Session there had been considerable difficulty in doing so. Formerly they had to deal with only two Parties in that Assembly; but they were now told for the first time that there was a third Party among them, and, unless that third Party was absorbed by the supporters of the Government, he thought additional accommodation in the House would have to be provided for them. He hoped that the Government would take into their consideration the necessity of affording better accommodation to hon. Members. Not only had a large number of hon. Gentlemen shown a great zeal—he did not know how long it would last—to take part in the proceedings of the House; but the publication of the Yellow Books, which showed to their constituents the number of divisions they had attended, also had its effect. During the last Election those Yellow Books were often quoted, and very wrongly, against hon. Members. He had himself protested against the system of judging a Member's attendance by the number of divisions he had attended. When it was charged against himself that he had attended few divisions, it was found that he had really attended more divisions than the Leader of the Opposition. In conclusion, he hoped that the Government would without delay consider the plans of Mr. Barry for improving the accommodation for hon. Members.


said, that, having been for many years a Member of the House, he should, perhaps, be excused for adding his testimony to that of the hon. and learned Serjeant who had commenced that discussion, and also to that of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry), with respect to the great and growing inconvenience to which hon. Members, especially on that—the Ministerial—side of the House, were put from the want of accommodation. Being anxious to secure a seat a few days ago, he came down to the House at half-past 12 o'clock, and he found only one seat unoccupied out of the first six on the Bench where he had been in the habit of sitting for more than 20 years; and he was obliged, very reluctantly, to appropriate the seat which was generally occupied by his hon. Friend below him, who he hoped would not think him wanting in respect for him. That was really becoming a serious inconvenience, for men got as fond of their seats in that House as they got attached to their seats in church. Hon. Members did not like to be disturbed, and, as a matter of courtesy, one was reluctant to disturb them. But, at the same time, when there was a general scramble for places, everybody was obliged to shift for himself as best he could; and hon. Members who had been in the habit of speaking from a particular place felt considerably embarrassed and uncomfortable if they had to speak from a quarter, perhaps a remote corner, to which they were not accustomed. He saw no advantage in assenting to the proposal that the doors should be kept shut until half-past 3 o'clock, or any other fixed hour, because there would then be a general rush into the House, and the share of the best seats would fall, not, perhaps, to those who were best entitled to them, but to the strongest and most resolute men. He was well acquainted with the plan which had been referred to for increasing the accommodation by a new building. It was drawn out many years ago, and he had always hoped that it would be adopted. But, as regarded the general idea of the Chamber for that House, he thought that the present idea could not be improved upon. He had seen the Legislative Chambers of other countries—not only those of France, but also those of America and of Canada—and he ventured to say that they were not to be compared, in point of arrangement, with the plan of the present House of Commons. But that building was undoubtedly too small for 650 Members, and it was simply preposterous that anything like the number of Members who considered themselves entitled to take part in their discussions could be accommodated within the limited space now available for them. As to its acoustical properties, everybody knew that if they tried the voice when the House was comparatively empty it was easy to be heard. On the other hand, when the House was crammed with Members, it was very difficult to make one's voice distinctly audible. If the Chamber were twice the present size, speakers would be heard much easier. Therefore, he would impress upon the Government the propriety of taking that question into its consideration at an early opportunity.


said, he had always been content to take any seat he could get without trying to appropriate a particular place. The ticket system offered a strong inducement to hon. Members to appropriate a particular seat at the earlier part of the evening; but they might chance to want to return to it at some later period. That system was at the root of a large portion of the inconvenience which had been complained of. It was productive of no good result, and, in his opinion, might with the greatest advantage be abolished.


said, he objected to the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon), as being calculated to lead to a scramble for seats. He could not conceive anything more likely to lead to disagreeable, if not to disastrous, conse- quences than the adoption of the scheme suggested by the hon. and learned Member. Indeed, the present system had acted well for many years, and although there was always a certain amount of confusion at the beginning of New Parliaments, that subsided gradually; and he hoped, therefore, the House would pause before it sanctioned any new arrangement.


congratulated the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) on the Conservative proclivities which he had displayed on this question in wishing to adhere to the old Rules. If hon. Members who were sitting in the House for the first time would have a little patience, they would see in a few weeks a very different state of things from that which now existed. Sometimes during a Parliament there were alterations—Gentlemen retired from one side, and their successors took seats on the other side. That was a very marked feature in the Parliament elected in 1868. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) would fully appreciate these circumstances, for he felt them at the time very acutely. If they left things as they were, they would right themselves. Even in the course of that evening, during the Estimates, hon. Members would find that while the money of the country was being voted away, the House would be deserted by all save about 50 or 60 Members. They had in that House many conveniences which they might or might not have in the new one; and he, for one, should be sorry to desert the old House. In his opinion, the old Rule—which, indeed, was the only one—was sufficient. That was, that unless a Member was at prayers, and put his card into the place provided for it on the back, he could not secure a seat.


thought they should stick to the present system, or dispose of the seats by ballot.


said, he thought his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Serjeant Simon) had given expression to a very intelligible and natural feeling in consequence of the pressure that had been experienced by so many Members of the House; and, as far as the Government were concerned, he need not say that anything said on both sides of the House should have their careful attention, with the view of doing every- thing in their power to provide the greatest accommodation and convenience for hon. Members. But he thought there would be great difficulty in discussing the larger plan referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry). As regarded the more limited plan, it was evident the prosecution of that modest design was by no means what was called plain sailing. However, the discussion had contributed to ripen the minds of Members on the subject, though it had not reached a stage when it would be wise for him to tempt the House to pronounce a decision upon it. He hoped, therefore, his hon. and learned Friend would be content with having raised the discussion and withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.