HC Deb 11 March 1881 vol 259 cc884-8

Motion made, and. Question proposed, That Mr. BAXTER, Mr. BIRKBECK, Mr. BLAKE, Mr. DONALD CAMERON be nominated Members of the said Committee.

Question put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Robert Duff be one other Member of the said Committee."


said, he wished to object to the name of Mr. Baxter.


The hon. Member is too late. All the names have been agreed to down to that of Mr. Robert Duff.


would object, then, to the name of Mr. Duff. His reason for taking this course was not that he was in any way prepared to maintain that the Gentlemen nominated were not perfectly competent to fulfil the duties it was proposed to confer upon them. His objection was of a more general character. He found that it was proposed to nominate upon this Committee nine Gentlemen from the other side of the House who were Liberals, while the remaining six were drawn from that (the Opposition) side of the House, and were Conservatives. It would be perceived, therefore, that there was a large preponderance of Liberal names over those of Conservatives. It would be recollected by hon. Members that last Session an attempt was made to alter the traditional constitution of Committees by giving an undue preponderance to one political Party in the House. The attempt was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, and it was resisted by the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Opposition. Finally, it was agreed that no steps of that kind should be taken until full opportunity had been given to the House to discuss the question. That being so, he observed with some surprise that the traditional distribution of Members, as between the two Parties, had been departed from in the case of the present Committee. Since he gave Notice of opposition to the nomination of this particular Committee, it had been pointed out that there would be considerable difficulty, in the case of a small and non-political Committee, in invariably adhering to the old arrangement. That difficulty arose, principally, from the fact that in addition to the two Parties—Liberal and Conservative—there now existed a third Party, which did not in any way obey the traditional organization of the other two. He might say at once that he had no objection, in the case of small and non-political Committees, to a distribution such as that which was contained in the proposal now before the House. All he required was, that instead of the arrangement being made upon some tacit agreement between the Whips outside the knowledge of the House, there should be some formal and explicit statement made by the Government, to the effect that there should be a preponderance of Members from the Government side of the House only in those Committees which dealt with comparatively insignificant subjects, and subjects respecting which there was no Party controversy. The appointment of such a Committee should be no precedent, in any way, in the formation of a larger Committee which might have to deal with important public questions. If he could obtain any assurance of that kind from any Member of Her Majesty's Government, he would withdraw his objection; but, in order to afford an opportunity for such an assurance to be given, he begged now to object to the name of Mr. Robert Duff.


Perhaps the House will allow me to say a word or two upon the objection which has been raised by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour). It is quite true, as stated by the hon. Member, that my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government did last year suggest that there should be a certain amount of change in the mode in which Committees have hitherto been constituted; but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has stated the nature of the change quite accurately. I do not think the change which my right hon. Friend suggested was that Committees should be appointed in any way in accordance with the proportions of the supporters and opponents of the Government; but what took place was this:—My right hon. Friend stated, on behalf of the Government, that, in their opinion, the change which has taken place in the constitution of Parties in this House required some change in the mode of nominating Committees, in order to secure the continuance of that which has always hitherto been the practice—namely, that the Government of the day, possessing the confidence of the majority of Members of the House, should have, on all important Committees, a majority of the Party supporting themselves. In the present state of the House, when the House is not divided, as in former times, into two Parties, but into three or four Parties, that can only be accomplished by some change in the old arrangement; and all my right hon. Friend said last year was that it would be necessary to consider the subject, and to secure that while the different political Parties of which the House was constituted were recognized, the majority of the Members appointed upon all important Committees should be selected from among the usual supporters of Her Majesty's Government. For instance, it is proposed, as in this instance, that a Committee should consist of 15 Members, that eight of them should be supporters of the Government—I think the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in suggesting that nine of the Members proposed on the present Committee are supporters of the Government. The proportion is, I think, eight Members from among the supporters of the Government; six selected from among the regular Opposition, and one hon. Member chosen from below the Gangway on the other side of the House. It does not appear to me that the claim made by the Government is an unreasonable one, and really the question is not raised on the composition or appointment of this Committee, which has no political character at all. My noble Friend (Lord Richard Grosvenor) and hon. Gentlemen opposite, in order to prevent any unnecessary inconvenience or any obstruction to Public Business, have arrived at an understanding that in regard to the nomination of Committees of this description, which do not concern any political questions at all, the observance of the ordinary Rule should not be insisted upon. Of course, the case would be different when we come to appoint an important Committee. I can quite understand the view of the hon. Member that any understanding made privately, without the knowledge of the House, should be recognized inside the House. But in regard to the appointment of the present Committee I believe there is no particular principle at stake, and that the question which the hon. Member desires to raise is not in any degree involved.


was not disposed to quarrel with the proposition laid down by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India. But the noble Lord talked of the fact that there were now three political Parties in the House instead of two as formerly, and said that it made a change in the mode of nominating Committees necessary. But he wished to ask the noble Lord if there were not also three Parties in the House during the existence of the late Government? Nevertheless, the late Government invariably observed the Rule of only nominating an exact majority of the Members of a Committee from among their own supporters. What he now understood the noble Lord to suggest was that upon every important Committee there should be a majority of Liberals over Conservatives and Home Rulers combined. It was not worth while to argue the matter in reference to the appointment of the present Committee, in which there was no political principle involved; but on that side of the House they would content themselves for the present with protesting against the adoption of any Rule upon the subject without regular Notice, so that the question might undergo full discussion. Therefore, the nomination of the Committee as now proposed would not be objected to, on the understanding that the Government were not seeking to lay down any precedent, and that they would agree not to raise the question of principle without affording an opportunity for a full and thorough discussion of any novel feature they desired to introduce. The noble Lord intimated that in regard to this Committee an understanding had already been come to between the Whips on the two sides of the House. If that were so he hind nothing to say on the subject. All he desired was that the Government should adhere to the suggestion made last Session, that no fundamental change should be proposed in the constitution or mode of appointing Committees without affording full opportunity for discussing the novel proposition. Upon that understanding, he had no doubt that his hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would withdraw the objection he had made.


had no wish to continue the discussion. He only wished to say that it was the desire of the Government to keep up the old proportions in regard to the composition of Committees—namely, that a majority—and a majority only of each Committee—should be selected from among the usual supporters of the Government.

Question put, and agreed to.

Remaining names agreed to. Lord ELCHO, Sir ALEXANDER GORDON, Mr. ANDREW GRANT, Admiral Sir JOHN HAY, Mr. JOHN HOLMS, Mr. HERMON, Mr. MARJORIBANKS, Sir HERBERT MAXWELL, Mr. PENDER, and. Mr. WILLIAMSON nominated other Members of the said Committee:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records:—Five to be the quorum.