HC Deb 21 February 1882 vol 266 cc1265-85

in rising to move— That it is desirable that the practice of this House should be so amended that the consideration of Bills which have passed a Second Reading but have not become law shall be resumed in the succeeding Session of the same Parliament at the stage of Committee, said, it was hardly possible to expect that, after the exciting scenes of the last hour and a-half, the House would readily address itself to the Motion he had put on the Paper. He would venture to say that a great deal of what he would have to urge on the House in justification of the present Motion had been rendered unnecessary, because on the previous evening the House had been addressing itself to another part of the great question to which the present Motion was directed, and had already had the advantage of the Prime Minister's powerful arguments bearing upon the subject—arguments based upon half-a-contury's experience of the House. The question was one of such importance to the public interests that it was the duty of all Parties, whether Liberal or Conservative, to endeavour to effect some remedy for the difficulties that beset the House at the present time. The Prime Minister had dwelt on only one of the evils that beset Public Business; he spoke of the manner in which the progress of legislation was being impeded. He said that many Bills of great importance, after having been carried forward several stages, were ultimately lost on account of the pressure on the time at the disposal of the House. But there was another point of almost equal importance. It was a great misfortune for the country that many measures that had been fully debated and thoroughly well considered wore ultimately thrown away on account of the impossibility of finding time to proceed with them. Then there was another matter of importance. The mode in which the work of the House was done frequently caused measures to be passed in so hurried and haphazard a manner that Acts were left on the Statute Book which had not only been insufficiently considered, but were badly expressed. He had heard it said that the House of Commons ought not to do much in the way of legislation. It was sometimes cynically remarked that the less the number of Bills that were passed the better it would be for the country, and it had been suggested that no change should be made that would lead to excessive legislation. But in the present system of elaborate social relations there must be change, such change as would be consistent with the existing state of things. It was his firm belief that many a measure which while in progress produced Radical agitation, when it once became law constituted an element of Conservative strength, because it engendered a feeling of relief that the particular questions dealt with by it had at last become settled. Mis- chiefs existed that had to be removed. There were very few men in the House of Commons who had a thorough acquaintance with—say—a particular trade or profession, or with a particular portion of society, and, therefore, they did not consider themselves called upon to interest themselves in measures dealing with such subjects, but they made a reservation in favour of the one measure affecting a subject with which they were themselves connected. There was a mischief which irritated people, and impeded legislation—a feeling was prevalent that Parliament was unable to do its work. Of this he would give instances. Look at the present state of the Bankruptcy Laws; lie did not know any Act that was so much wanted as a new Bankruptcy Act. All persons conversant with the Bankruptcy Laws were at one as to the necessity for an amendment of the law, yet year by year a Minister of the Grown had come forward and introduced a Bankruptcy Bill, the necessity for which had been recognized in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech, and then when the end of the Session had come he gave Notice that the Bill would not be further proceeded with; he put it in his despatch-box, and preserved it carefully for the next Session, when the same farce was repeated. Then he would give another instance. Last Session the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) brought in a Bill, which was intended to consolidate the Law on Bills of Exchange. It was a thoroughly commercial question, and a question that had been fully considered by the various Chambers of Commerce throughout the country. He had read the Bill himself, and had found it was drawn in almost the exact words of a judgment of one of the superior Courts of Law. But what took place with regard to that Bill? The hon. Baronet moved the second reading, and the second reading was allowed on the understanding that the Bill should not be carried further, the hon. Baronet being congratulated on its having advanced so far. So the House went through the solemn farce of reading the Bill a second time, without any intention of passing it, and knowing that the same steps would have to be gone all over again the following Session. All this was calculated to wear out the patience of the public. The Conveyancing Bill of Lord Cairns, which was passed last Session, was a very important measure. It contained over 70 clauses; it came down to the House towards the end of the Session, and there was, he might say, a conspiracy of silence on the part of Members in order to make it possible that the Bill should pass. He was entreated not to read the Bill, because, if he read it and any discussion arose, a single night's debate in the House of Commons would make it impossible for it to get through the House that Session. The measure only got through by the sacrifice of certain clauses comprising somewhat debateable matter, and which, he thought, were introduced last night in a separate Bill in "another place." However, that Bill passed, and he did not think that 20 Members of the House ever read it before it became law. It was, he believed, a good Bill; but it was not satisfactory that even a good Bill should pass without the knowledge and discussion and approval of the Representatives sent there by the constituencies to discuss those matters. Again, there was the Registration of Voters Bill of 1878, which in its practical result had been of much importance. It had largely increased a great many of the constituencies of the country. His own constituency, which was last year 5,600 in number, was now, since last year's revision, 13,600, showing a greater increase than that made by the Reform Act of 1867. In 1878 the Bill had been before a Committee, and it came for Report before the House. Sections 1 to 21 were gone through without any opposition or comment. Sir William Charley, then a Member of the House, objected that the Bill had only just been printed, and asked that there might be some delay before its discussion was continued. Sir William Charley interposed exactly at the right point, for Sections 22 and 23 were those which had since given such difficulty to the Courts in construing, and had so materially affected the constituencies. The then Member for Cambridge (Mr. Marten) on the one side, and the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) on the other, assured Sir William Charley that no considerable change was made by the provisions of the Bill. That appeal was listened to; the whole of the sections were gone through that evening; the third reading was taken on the following night; the Bill went up to the House of Lord, where, as it dealt with the registration of voters for Members of the House of Commons, no great amount of attention was paid to it; and the result had been an entirely unexpected extension of the franchise, which, whatever its merits, ought not to have been made in that way, but, if made at all, should have been made deliberately by Parliament, with a full consciousness of what it was doing. But there was another, and a very serious mischief, and that was the tremendous strain that was thrown upon the Members of the House themselves. A great many Members of the House were actively engaged in commercial and professional life, and to them, of course, the strain of the long hours the House was kept sitting, night after night, was enormous. But, that was almost insignificant, compared with the mischief of the burden upon Ministers of the Crown. Was it not a remarkable thing that Her Majesty's Ministers, who were expected to perform the responsible duties of their Offices during the day, should be expected to attend the House from 4 o'clock in the afternoon until 3 or 4 in the morning? The marvel was that they were endowed with vitality and energy sufficient to enable them to continue for years in this splendid slavery. One of the great advantages which would be likely to follow from the adoption by the House of the Resolution he was offering to its acceptance was that, so far as one could see, there would be no necessity, if the Resolution were adopted, for the House to continue sitting after 12 or half-past 12 at night, which would be a reasonable time for the limit of their debates. Moreover, not only did their present late hours heavily tax the endurance of Ministers and private Members, but they caused Business to be done badly and in a manner that was not creditable to a Legislative Assembly. At 2 or 3 in the morning there was no pretence of adequate discussion of the questions that came before the House; and, worse than all, their debates were almost wholly unreported. Practically, the proceedings of the House could not now be reported after 1 in the morning, and within the last few days, as they had seen, it was only owing to the enter-prize of one great newspaper that they were able to have a full report a day later of the speech delivered by the Leader of the Opposition, and the reply of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India at the close of the debate on the Address. Now, his proposal would deal practically with all the mischief that he had indicated. The real difficulty of the House was that they were all, whether Ministers or private Members, competing just to get past a certain point. If that point was passed, the Bill in which they were interested would become law. If they came short of that point, the whole of their labour had to begin over again. There was one very indefensible species of obstruction to which the Prime Minister had not adverted on the previous evening—namely, the persistent discussion of matters which nobody cared about, in order to prevent other matters which it was desired to impede from coming on. Valuable time was deliberately and purposely wasted in order to keep up a debate until a quarter to 6 on a Wednesday, when no decision could be come to, or till half-past 12, when some opposed measure could not come on; and speakers went on repeating themselves again and again, until the magic hour of half-past 12 arrived, when nothing fresh could be entered upon. They should put an end to that kind of obstruction by doing away with the temptation to practise it. If they once provided that the House should be free to deal with such a Bill in the following February when Parliament met again, it would have an excellent effect in silencing the kind of opposition which endeavoured to prevent such measures being discussed. He could see no defence to the action of those who deliberately wasted the time of the House for the purpose of preventing Parliament passing any measure at all. These were reasons for adopting a substantial reform in such cases. He would also call the attention of the House to the fact that every Parliament proceeded by jerks; that it was cut up into separate Sessions, as though when they had finished their work in July they had done with the whole matter. So long as the machinery of legislation went on in that spasmodic, jerky way, a very great waste of time was inevitable. He would take, by way of example, the Bankruptcy Law, of which the country had for a long time past required some amendment. There was the Bankruptcy Bill, which the President of the Board of Trade thought he would introduce last Session, and which they expected this Session. There was no security that his present Bill would be introduced this year in the form which it took last, and he would point out this inconvenient result. Some two or three months ago, the Associated Chambers of Commerce held their meeting, and one of the subjects they discussed was the Bankruptcy Bill. Did the House know that they would have the same Bill before them as in the previous year, the Associated Chambers of Commerce would, no doubt, have discussed the measure and proposed amendments, which would have been of great service to them in framing that enactment. But the President of the Board of Trade said that he knew the Bill going to be introduced would differ in some respects from the last one, and thus the whole of what he might call the consultative power of the country was thrown away. That was the case with the Associated Chambers of Commerce. But let them take another instance—the Rivers Conservancy Bill. That was a measure of very great interest to the Chambers of Agriculture, and county Members of that House going back in the autumn to their places in the country would have the advantage of hearing the opinion of their neighbours on the subject; but although he believed that the proposed Bill was to be the same, they had no assurance of that, and so long as there was no assurance they never could obtain that advantage. He thought it would be a very good thing if a Bill were brought in in one Session and passed in the next, for then hon. Members would have an opportunity of conferring with their constituents, and then in the following Session they would be enabled to bring their ripened opinion—their completed knowledge to the discussion of that measure. The proposal that Bills should not require to be introduced afresh each Session was not a new one, or one for which he was originally responsible. In 1848, and again in 1861, this question came before the House and before a Committee of the House of Commons, as well as before the House of Lords. And here he would venture for a moment to digress in order to say that it was of the greatest moment to the country that the position of the House of Lords should be properly appreciated as an integral part of the Legislative Body. He could not understand the jealousy which existed between the two Houses, or why there should be jealousy at all. It was perfectly well-known that the House of Lords contained men who had served their apprenticeship in the House of Commons; but the House of Lords was discouraged, systematically discouraged, by the action of the House of Commons towards it. Take the course pursued by the Government with respect to the Rivers Conservancy Bill, upon which the other House bestowed a great deal of trouble. This complaint had been made and repeated over and over again, and the other House was deterred from beginning legislation because it was probable that in the helter-skelter of July their labours would be sacrificed; while, on the other hand, in July, Bills were sent up to them by dozens when it was impossible for them to give them proper attention. Well, in 1848, a Bill was introduced in terms somewhat similar to his own Resolutions, enabling Bills discussed in one Session to be proceeded with in the next by the other House, subject always to this restriction—that when a measure had passed both Chambers it should be sent back to that from which it originated, so that if opinion respecting it had changed in the meantime that Chamber might have an opportunity of recording that change. That Bill received the support of the late Lord Derby; on the 5th of July, 1848, it was read a second time in the House of Commons, and Lord John Russell, who was then the Leader of the Liberal Party in that House, suggested that the Bill should only be a temporary one, because in case it did not prove effectual for the purpose desired it would otherwise be impossible to rescind the Rule without the assent of both Houses of Parliament. The Committee reported as late as the 11th of August that they did not advise the acceptance of that Bill; but they put their advice upon this ground—that it would introduce a material change, and, as the Session was drawing to a close, they had not time to consider the effect of material changes in the procedure of the House. Again, in 1869, a proposal on the subject was made in "another place." On that occasion the Marquess of Salisbury said— Owing to a rule of the Constitution—the origin of which nobody can discover, and of which it is impossible to say more than that we find it here—if when August comes your labours have not advanced beyond a certain point, those labours must be abandoned as far as legislation is concerned. All that you have done goes for nothing. If a Bill has been considered in great detail by a Select Committee, the Committee must sit and go through the details again; if it had to face a powerful opposition, all that opposition must be faced again. All the works, all the debates, all the enormous labour which attends the passing of any change, however small, in the laws which govern us must be gone through again, in order to reach the goal which you had nearly reached when the Prorogation arrived. Now is there in the nature of things any reason for this practice? Does it commend itself to any man's common sense r Do we act in this manner in any other department of life? Supposing you made it a rule to give up writing letters at a certain hour, would you throw all unfinished ones into the fire, or begin next morning at the point where you left off? Is there any body of men, in any kind of business, that adopt what I must call this senseless practice, that whatever you have not finished by a certain time you must begin again next year? I have never heard any reason for such a rule. There is nothing but the bare inert weight of unmeaning custom to justify a principle which wastes so much of the labour and utility of Parliament."—[3 Hansard, exciv. 589–90.] The plan which he put before the House was already in operation in France. It was subject to certain conditions there, and perhaps limitations might also be required here, though he confessed he did not perceive any necessity for them. His plan was that a Parliament should be treated in all its Sessions as one Parliament, and not as a series of separate Parliaments, as if the Sessions were water-tight compartments, designed to prevent Bills getting from one to the other. The Bills which the House had to deal with might be divided in three classes—first, there were the political Bills; secondly, the Departmental Bills; and, thirdly, private Members' Bills. Political Bills—like the Irish Church Bill, for example—were usually introduced by a Government with a strong majority at their back, and, consequently, such measures could be forced through Parliament in the course of a single Session. His proposal would, therefore, not affect in the least degree measures with which the existence of the Government of the day was identified. Departmental Bills were for the most part independent of Party considerations; and they were, in point of fact, practically prepared for the most part by the permanent officials of the various Departments. These Bills would be assisted most substantially by the adoption of his proposal. At present they were reduced to the necessity of putting on the Statute Book a series of fragmentary Acts of Parliament. They were obliged to do so, because if the Minister were to consolidate the laws on any subject into a new Statute he would have a Bill so considerable in its dimensions and giving rise to so much debate that there would be very little chance of squeezing it through in a single Session. As an instance of this, he might advert to the Criminal Code, although that could not properly be styled a Departmental measure. The late Attorney General (Sir John Holker) took a great interest in it; three of the best lawyers in England were for a long time engaged in getting it into shape; but it was almost hopeless to expect that any measure of that importance and magnitude could be passed through the House of Commons unless there were a power of continuing legislation from Session to Session. With regard to the Bills of private Members, no doubt many of them were trivial, and ought never to be entertained by the House. He hoped, therefore, that if this proposal were adopted the House would revert to the old practice of considering very carefully whether leave should be given to a private Member to introduce a Bill. There would be no hardship in requiring a Member to explain the provisions of his Bill in the first instance. One objection urged against his plan was that it would cause a great number of Bills to be introduced, and that there would be a great deal too much legislation. His answer to that objection was that he did not think there need be any fear of that occurring. The English people were not likely to submit to too much legislation. They had had a remarkable instance, which changed for a time the position of political Parties, in 1873. It was the impatience of legislation which actually destroyed, sapped, and undermined the power of a Government which came into Office with so great a majority in 1868. He did not think that anyone had suggested that there was any real reason for the withdrawal of the confi- dence of the country in that Government except the rapidity with which it had proceeded with legislation. The legislation really required by the country was most Conservative in its tendency; but, as matters now stood, people were irritated at the defective machinery which delayed legislation on questions that ought to have been dealt with long ago. He would not particularize any Bills which had been so delayed, because it would divert the discussion from the general issue. But of this he was certain, that there were at least half-a-dozen Bills which had been accepted by the House in principle over and over again, and which some day must become law, but the delay in the passing of which caused great irritation to the country, and was a source of weakness to the Conservative Party. It would be desirable, as well in the interest of political Parties as in that of the country, that those Bills should be passed, and come into operation with the least possible delay. It so happened that he submitted his proposal immediately after the discussion of other Resolutions with regard to Procedure. He believed that if his Resolution were adopted it would make the more stringent measures proposed needless. Experience of the régime he proposed—namely, carrying on Bills from Session to Session—would, in his opinion, satisfy hon. Members of its expediency, and tend greatly to relieve their present labours. Private Bill legislation was included within the terms of his Motion, but he was aware that there were difficulties with regard to it. His experience of Private Bill legislation was that it was extremely well done, and that the tribunals which dealt with Private Bills were quite competent and decided with great promptitude. But instances were constantly occurring in which promoters were obliged to submit to clauses, and make compromises enormously expensive, and which seriously interfered with the benefit of the works proposed, in consequence of the knowledge that a few days' delay would destroy the benefit of all the work done during the Session. But, for the moment, he wished to rest his proposition on the larger issue, that it would be of benefit to public legislation. One great merit of his proposal was its simplicity. If it should become necessary to fight the question of Parliamentary Procedure before the constituencies, there was no question upon which he would more gladly challenge their judgment than upon the merits of the proposal he now made. It possessed the great advantage of neither disturbing nor interfering with the traditions of the House. It would not require that the Government, or any other authority, should be intrusted with any extreme or exceptional powers; and, above all, it had that merit which could not justly be attributed to the other proposals which had been submitted to the House, that it was preeminently simple and intelligible. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is desirable that the practice of this House should be so amended that the consideration of Bills which have passed a Second Reading but have not become law shall be resumed in the succeeding Session of the same Parliament at the stage of Committee."—(Mr. Edward Clarke.)


said, he agreed in the opinion expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth that, after the exciting scene that the House had witnessed, the minds of hon. Members could hardly be attuned to the consideration of the subject now before them. The House being engaged in examining the question of its Procedure, under the legitimate guidance of its Leader, his hon. and learned Friend, exercising his full right as a private Member, had invited them to consider a supplementary proposal of a still more revolutionary character than that of the First Lord of the Treasury. He (Mr. Beresford Hope) did not think it would be seemly for the House to deal with such a subject, when it was sandwiched in between the debate which, begun last night, would end at some future period of the world's history and the subject of Irish Land. He could praise his hon. and learned Friend's courage, but not his discretion. The Rules proposed by the Government were not enough for the hon. and learned Member, who characterized his own proposal as a simple one. Well, there were various notions of simplicity. Hon. Members would remember a case in which a person, desirous of making himself famous, had hit upon the simple expedient of setting fire to the Temple of Ephesus. The scheme of the hon. and learned Member involved such complex and extensive issues that no man in that House could have any real idea of how it would work. One thing only could they make sure of—namely, that it would revolutionize the whole system of Parliamentary Procedure. Were they, he asked, at the present moment, when other questions of such great public interest were awaiting their consideration—were they competent to pronounce judgment on this proposal? He contended that they were not. Of course, everyone who cherished any pet scheme pictured it in rose colour. No equestrian at Hengler's Circus had ever shown more dexterity in riding two horses at once than the hon. and learned Member had displayed in his speech. He recommended the innovation because it would do so much and because it would do so little. The hon. and learned Member dazzled them with an Arcadian picture of primitive simplicity. If Bills were carried on from one Session to another, then there would be no necessity for the clôture, and Members would all go to bed, innocent and healthy, punctually at 12 o'clock. It would be a transformation scene such as no pantomime had ever equalled. He was not, however, prepared to accept this agreeable forecast simply on the ipse dixit of the hon. and learned Member. He hoped the hon. and learned Member would not give them the trouble of dividing, but that he would be satisfied with having placed his views before the House, and be willing to leave them to fructify in the country. The hon. and learned Member was very impressive in urging on the House that it would be well if every measure of great importance should be considered in two Sessions before becoming law. Let him, then, himself, set an example in accordance with his own doctrine. Let him not attempt to get the House to adopt his proposal until next Session. He begged, in conclusion, to move the Previous Question.

Motion made, and Previous Question proposed, "That the original Question be now put."—(Mr. Beresford Hope.)


said, if there was an Eratostratus in the House his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. Edward Clarke) was not the man. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down took exception to the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend, on the ground that the hon. and learned Member was not satisfied with the Rules proposed by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. But his hon. and learned Friend brought forward this as a counter-proposition, and he was very glad that he had the opportunity of doing so, because it vindicated the Conservative Party from the charge that in opposing the Resolutions of the Government they were actuated by an obstructive spirit. Although the whole Conservative Party would feel it their duty to oppose the 1st Resolution, they would have a distinct alternative to submit to the House if they accepted this proposal. The Resolution now before the House was of a constructive and not of an obstructive character. It was a proposal the principle of which had been approved and accepted by Lords Lansdowne, Grey, Russell, Granville, Salisbury, Selborne, Derby, Cairns, and the Duke of Richmond. The proposal was one intended for the promotion of Public Business, and it was not brought forward as a Party move. Looking over the records of last Session, he noticed that something like 40 Bills which had passed the second reading, or reached even further stages in the House of Commons, had been abandoned. He thought that was a matter which well deserved consideration. The proposal of his hon. and learned Friend was objected to on two grounds. One objection was that the proposal, if adopted, would lead to too much legislation. At the present moment he thought there was not the smallest fear of that; on the contrary, he thought there was a very great risk that they would have too little legislation. The next point was as to the quality of the legislation, and here there was an arguable objection. He was not prepossessed in favour of the legislation likely to be brought forward from the Ministerial Benches. There was no keener opponent of the Government than he was; but he admitted the doctrine that the majority must rule and legislate. But, while admitting that, all they asked was that the majority should not tyrannize. He wished to say one word on the purely Party aspect of the question. He was sorry to find that the Resolution did not commend itself to Gentlemen on that side of the House. He believed honestly that if this proposal, or something of the same kind, were not carried, it was inevitable that drastic Rules would be passed by the House. He believed, further, that the clôture was, in their hearts, detested by nine-tenths of the Members, and he felt that he was doing a good service in supporting the Resolution of his hon. and learned Friend.


said, he did not think the Resolution was at all fairly met by the ridicule attempted to be thrown upon it by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope). The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, on the contrary, deserved the thanks of the House for bringing forward this proposal. He did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the proposal was more revolutionary than the clôture. At all events, he knew which of the two he considered most revolutionary and objectionable. He thought there was a great deal to be said in favour of the proposal, or something similar to it. He gathered from his hon. and learned Friend's speech that he really meant to go further than the words of his Resolution appeared to bear, because he spoke of making Sessions continuous. The words of the Resolution would not have that effect. The Resolution appeared to be rather narrow, because it only appeared that a Bill which had had a second reading would come back in the following Session to the period of Committee. A Bill might have gone through Committee and Report, and be waiting only for third reading; but under the Resolution, as worded, the Bill would not be taken up the next Session at the stage it left off, but would be brought back again to the stage of Committee. Therefore, the Resolution was not exactly consistent with itself if, as the hon. and learned Member said, he wanted to make the Sessions continuous. The hon. and learned Member had referred to previous proposals on this question; but if he had continued his inquiries, he would have found that he (Mr. Anderson) had proposed a somewhat similar Resolution—namely, that a Bill which had been completely finished in one House in one Session should be taken up by the other House at the beginning of the next Session. There might be some difficulty in carrying out the proposal of the hon. and learned Member. For instance, a Bill might be half-way through Committee. It would be difficult to take it up at that point in the following Session. But his (Mr. Anderson's) proposal would enable the House of Lords, which wasted a great deal of time at the beginning of each Session, to proceed to business at once on Bills which had passed the House of Commons. There would also be a great saving of time to this House by the adoption of some such proposal as he had spoken of. Important Bills which had passed that House had often been rejected by the Lords simply for want of time to consider them. That was done in the case of a Ballot Bill, and also of a Scotch Education Bill, on which the House of Commons had bestowed a great deal of labour. The result was that that House had, week after week, and month after month, to go through the same amount of patient labour as they had already bestowed on the particular measures. All that would be saved by some rule of this kind, or some modification of this rule. The present might not be the best form the proposal could take, but something of the kind was needed, and he thought it well, therefore, that the House should take this proposal into consideration, with a view to the amendment of its procedure.


said, that everyone must approve the spirit which actuated his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth in bringing forward this Motion for the improvement of their procedure. But the speech to which they had just listened showed a great deal of haziness of ideas as to the mode in which that was to be done. It might be very well, by some arrangement between the two Houses, if one House could take up in one Session some measure which had been elaborately considered and decided on in the other House in the previous Session. But his hon. and learned Friend's proposal was different; it was that they should be able to take up a Bill in the same House on the strength of its having passed a second reading in the former Session. That proposition was based on the fallacy that whenever a Bill had passed a second reading the House had pronounced authoritatively on its principles. But the fact was a vast number of Bills passed a second reading in that House sub silentio, or through the carelessness or good nature of hon. Members. If they were to allow these Bills to be brought forward again as now proposed, they would assume a great deal more than the facts of the case really warranted. Something more could be said in favour of the Resolution if it were confined to Bills which had passed through Committee, or through a later stage, for then the House might be taken to have expressed some real opinion upon them. The practice was for Members to introduce their Bills at an early period of the Session, and to get them read a second time early in the morning, after a late Sitting, without obtaining the real mind of the House with respect to them. As his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) had pointed out, a great many Bills were altered in consequence of the consideration given to them during the Recess. For instance, the Bill for the Conservancy of Rivers and Prevention of Hoods, which had been read a second time last night, had in that way received material modifications and alterations, and it would not have been possible to have represented it as a re-introduction of the measure of last year. On the whole, though the object of his hon. and learned Friend was most commendable, the House ought not to adopt the proposal in the interest of Public Business.


said, he was not sure how the Mover of the Resolution intended to apply it—whether it was that measures which had passed one House in one Session might, if they had reached a certain stage in another House, be taken up in that House at that stage the next Session and passed into law, or that a Bill which had advanced to a certain stage in one House might, so far as that House only was concerned, be taken up at the point at which it had stopped, or that both arrangements might be carried through. If the intention was that a Bill which had passed one House in one Session, and in the same Session had passed a certain stage in the second House, should be taken up at the same stage in the second House and passed into law, it was clear that, as a Prorogation put an end to all the proceedings of a Session, what the hon. and learned Mem- ber proposed could not be done without an Act of Parliament. But if the Resolution only came to this—that a Bill which had been introduced, and had got to a certain stage in that House, might be taken up at the same stage the following Session, the advantage to be gained would be very small, because if the Bill was one which had commended itself to the House in the first Session it was quite certain that in the second its earlier stages would be allowed to pass without any difficulty, and it would at once be practically taken up at the stage it had reached before. The hon. and learned Gentleman thought his proposal would be of great advantage, because it would prevent hasty and careless legislation. He (Mr. Dodson) ventured to think that its operation would be quite the reverse. Bills would be brought in one Session, and Members would be told, or would satisfy themselves, that there was no intention of passing them, but only of getting them a second reading, and then the next Session it would be said that the House had in the former Session read the Bills a second time with practical unanimity. A greater number of Bills, too, would be introduced and be printed, and thus the cost to the country would be increased. If the argument of his hon. and learned Friend was good for continuing Bills from one Session to another, it was good for continuing them through successive Sessions. Why might not a Bill be read a first time one Session, a second time in another Session, committed in a third, considered and read a third time in a fourth? And in that case what chance would the House have of being practically cognizant of the measures it passed? Of course, if the House adopted such a step as this they could not expect that the other House would not adopt a corresponding step. He ventured to think that it would not be for the advantage of the House—certainly not from the Liberal point of view—that when it had passed a great and considerable measure to which great interest was attached, it should be in the power of the other House to avoid coming to a straight decision upon it in that year; but that they should be able, as it were, to evade an issue by simply postponing the Bill to another year. That was no visionary fear, as all would admit who called to mind the measures that might have been and probably would have been treated in that manner by the other House, if such a Rule had been in operation. It was true that more than one eminent authority had expressed himself favourable to the scheme, but the House had, on consideration, always rejected it. The hon. and learned Member had referred to two Committees, and to the debate of 1869, but not to the Committee appointed in that year. That Committee had been composed jointly of Members of the two Houses, and had consisted of the late Lord Derby, Lords Granville, Salisbury, Eversley, Halifax, and Redesdale; Sir George Grey, Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Bouverie, Mr. Walpole, Colonel Wilson Patten, and himself (Mr. Dodson), who came to a conclusion unfavourable to the proposal. He believed that the House was still of their opinion, and that the hon. and learned Member's views, however taking in the abstract, could not conveniently be adopted.

MR. EDWARD CLARKE, in reply, said, he expected the objection which had been raised to his Motion; but he did not suppose it would have been so candidly avowed from the Treasury Bench. He would remind the House that the Bill which had been proposed in 1848 and copied in 1869 embodied something quite different from what he had brought forward that evening. The former proposal would have had this mischievous effect—that whilst the House of Commons would have always possessed the option of taking up Bills which came down from the House of Lords, the House of Lords would have been liable to provoke the cry which came from no part of the House with more vigour than from the Treasury Bench, whenever the other Chamber did not choose to pass a particular Bill, if it were similarly to postpone to the ensuing Session a Bill from the Commons. That Bill had provided that when a Bill had passed one House of Parliament in one Session, it might, notwithstanding the Prorogation, be taken up by the other House in the next Session. The right hon. Gentleman had also referred to the custom which existed, in the present loose practice of the House, of arranging that a particular Member should get to the stage of the second reading. It was precisely this loose practice which it was desired to meet by an expedient of this kind. Constituted as the House was at that moment, he did not propose to go to a division; but he hoped to have an opportunity of renewing the Motion at some future time, in a larger House, and under more favourable circumstances.


said, that he had no wish to prolong the discussion; but the position of his hon. and learned Friend in the ranks of the Conservative Party, and the fact that his Resolution had been seconded by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Northcote), induced him to say a few words in support of what had been said by the President of the Local Government Board. Those who were familiar with the method of conducting Business knew that it was the commonest thing for a Member to be allowed to pass a Bill through certain stages on condition that it was not pressed further, and there was nothing that could be described as "dishonourable" in that.


explained that he did not suggest that there would be anything dishonourable, unless a Member who had got a measure formally read a second time on an understanding that it should proceed no further attempted to mislead the House next Session by citing the formal passing of the stage as a sign of the approval of the House.


accepted the explanation, and withdrew his objection to the use of the word "dishonourable." Still, the adoption of the Motion would open the door to a most dangerous state of affairs. It would be legislation by piecemeal; and, whatever intentions were entertained by individuals, measures introduced not to be proceeded with would come to be regarded as having received a qualified sanction, and finally might get passed without discussion. The hanging-up of Bills between the two Houses from Session to Session was, if possible, a still more objectionable proposal. The work of each Session should be kept distinct if Parliament was to be responsible for legislation. As this particular proposal had been condemned by several Committees, and received with less favour than almost any other proposal in succeeding Parliaments, and was almost unanimously condemned by the House, he trusted the House had heard the last of it, and that there would be no response to the invitation to recur to the subject on a future occasion. If the hon. and learned Gentleman, instead of withdrawing the Motion, would allow a division to be taken, it would be found that the feeling of the House had been rightly interpreted by both Front Benches, and that personal regard for the hon. and learned Member who had brought the subject forward largely accounted for any apparent disposition on the part of the House to entertain it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 61; Noes 126: Majority 65.—(I)iv. List, No. 17.)