HC Deb 20 November 1882 vol 274 cc1728-52

Standing Order (Half-past Twelve o'clock Rule) 18 February 1879, amended 9 May 1882, further considered.


, moved, as an Amendment, to add to the exemptions "Bills which have been settled by a Select Committee." The House would admit that a Bill which had gone through the ordeal of a Select Committee always came before it in a much more complete form than one that had not, and any Amendments were narrowed down to a very small compass. If such Bills were exempted from the Half-past Twelve o'clock Rule a great deal of valuable labour which had been undergone by Committees would not be lost. They would still be open to revision by a Committee of the whole House. He would remind the House that, though the Floods Prevention Bill passed through a Select Committee, it was blocked by a private Member in the House, owing to the operation of the Rule. He, therefore, trusted that Bills that had passed through a Select Committee would be excepted from the Rule.

Amendment proposed, After the word "House," at the end of the foregoing Amendment, to insert the words "or have been settled by a Select Committee."—(Mr. Hinde Palmer).

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, he thought that the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln's (Mr. Hinde Palmer's) proposed exemption would de- stroy the effect of the decision which had been reached, with great unanimity, by both sides of the House after discussion on Friday. The Amendment was against the spirit of the concession made by the Prime Minister, which only opened the Report stage to Bills which had passed a Committee of the Whole House, and which had been made in view of the possible Grand Committees. If carried, it would throw the House back into a vortex of confusion and disorder. The House must know how often it found Bills coming back from Select Committees totally altered, not in details, but in principles—important elements omitted, or else introduced. He need only point, in his own experience, to the great and important Committee on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford's (Mr. W. E. Forster's) Endowed Schools Bill, of which he (Mr. Beresford Hope) had been a Member, to show what the revision of a Select Committee meant. Besides, the House must recollect the system on which Select Committees were composed and the element of chance about them, with the narrow majority of 1 always secured to the Party which was in the majority in the House, so that a chance cold or two might alter the whole upshot of its deliberations. So, notwithstanding the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln's appeal as to the hardship of Bills over which Select Committees had been laboriously hammering after all falling through, the evil would be much greater, of subjecting the House to the haphazard chances of having to take Bills without adequate investigation, merely because they had passed—no one could tell how—the ordeal of a Select Committee.


said, that, while admitting the force of a great deal of what had been said by his hon. and learned Friend behind him (Mr. Hinde Palmer) in favour of the Amendment, he (Mr. Gladstone) hoped his hon. and learned Friend would withdraw it. He must remember that they were considering Rules which would diminish opposition and Obstruction, and it was important to keep that detail in view. It was true that a Select Committee frequently most considerably enhanced the value of a measure, giving it the character of a work of art, thereby making it far more perfect for the consideration of the House; but consisting, as such Committees did, of a very limited number of Gentlemen, specially interested in a particular subject, they sometimes changed the character of the measures submitted to them; and those measures, therefore, ought to command the consideration of the House at hours when they could be fully discussed. But there was still a more serious ground of opposition to the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend. The words "or Committee of the whole House" had been inserted in the Rule now before the House, in order to leave liable to the operations of the Half-past Twelve o'clock Rule Reports from Grand or Standing Committees. They could not consistently say that a Report from a Select Committee, composed of 15 Gentlemen, should be exempted, and that a Report from a Standing Committee of 60 or 80 Members should come under the operation of the Rule. For these reasons, he trusted the hon. and learned Member would not press his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


, in rising to move an Amendment, said, that, as there were probably now in the House many hon. Members who were not present on Friday last, when his Amendment was partially considered, he would venture very briefly to re-state his reasons for moving it. It was admitted by the great majority of the House that the Half-past Twelve o'clock Rule had, upon the whole, worked well; but it was equally admitted that certain abuses and defects had shown themselves in the working of it, and it was against one of those abuses that his present Amendment was directed. The Prime Minister had, on Friday last, strongly urged the House not to accept any Amendment which would enervate the Standing Order. In that desire he (Sir Henry Holland) cordially concurred; but he thought that to amend an abuse, and thus remove a legitimate objection to the Rule, would be not to enervate, but, on the contrary, to strengthen the Rule. He hoped, for that reason, to have the support not only of the Prime Minister, but of his right hon. Friend the senior Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John Mowbray), than whom there was no more staunch upholder of the Rule. Now, what was the defect or abuse that he (Sir Henry Holland) desired to check? It was that the Rule, as at present worked, enabled a single Member to stop not only the passing of a measure, but even the discussion of it. It surely could not have been intended by the framers of the Rule that Bills to which the majority of the House were favourably inclined should be practically stopped at the will of a single Member. Nay, he would go further, and say that it surely could not have been intended that measures not commanding the assent of the majority, but only supported by a minority, should be stopped by a single Member from being discussed. It had been frequently said that there was now too much private Member legislation. Even if such was the case, such measures should be rejected on their merits after discussion. He had some difficulty in understanding how hon. Members who had voted steadily against the Cloture Resolution could submit to the present working of the Rule, which, practically, stopped discussion, and acted as a most effective clôture. The present system was, in his opinion, unfair to a Member who brought forward a Bill, as he had a right to lay his views before the House for their consideration; and it was also unfair to the House, who had a right to have measures discussed and to decide upon them, and to separate the good from the bad. The present system tended also to keep the Order Book uselessly full, and thus to check legislation. If a Member introduced a Bill one Session, which he thought of importance, and all discussion on it was stopped that Session, he would, not unnaturally, introduce it again the following Session. But that course he would be less tempted to adopt if the Bill, after discussion, was rejected by a large majority. Again, a Bill was often introduced in a somewhat crude form, which, if those crudities were removed, as they might be, upon discussion in Committee, might commend itself to the majority of the House. But, in the absence of discussion, this Bill, not amended, would appear Session after Session in the Order Book. By the proposed Amendment of the Standing Order, every Notice of opposition would have to be put down, in the first instance, by six Members, and regularly supported by that number of Members. That would prevent a single Member from blocking a Bill in which, perhaps, he had no earthly interest, in a spirit of pique or retaliation, because some measure of his, or of some Friend of his, had been blocked by someone else, or because he thought he had been ill-treated by the Government, or by some section of the House. It would prevent a single Member from blocking a Bill because he objected to legislation generally, or because he wanted to get to bed early. He (Sir Henry Holland) had added some words to the Amendment to secure that the block should be kept on the Order Book by six Members. This he had done in the hope of meeting the objection raised on Friday last by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson). That right hon. Gentleman stated that he thought it would be more difficult to get rid of the block of six Members than it was to get rid of the block by one Member. But if the promoter of a Bill could persuade one of the six Members to withdraw his name the block would now cease to be valid; and he thought it would be quite as easy to get at one man out of six as to get at one man who had blocked under the present system. As to the number of "six," the House would see that different numbers had been proposed. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had proposed "three"—other hon. Members on the opposite side of the House had proposed "twelve" and "twenty." He himself was not opposed to "three," nor particularly wedded to "six." But when he found that difference of opinion to exist he thought he had struck a fair medium number, sufficient to show a bonâ fide opposition; and he should, therefore, be prepared to adhere to "six," though he ran the risk of not fully satisfying either side of the House. He turned now to the second branch of the proposed Amendment, to which he confessed he attached great importance. This provided for a weekly renewal of the block. Such a renewal would not only tend to show the bona fides of the block, but it would also tend to prevent the recurrence of cases which had been mentioned to the House, when a Member who had blocked a Bill went away, abroad, or into the country, forgetful of the block, or careless as to its effect. The consequence of such conduct might be that, though the promoter of a Bill might have accepted Amendments, and thus disarmed opposition, he would be unable to proceed with the measure, because unable to communicate with the Member, and to induce him to withdraw his block. It would be observed that he had fixed one day—Friday—in each week on or before which the renewal of the block should be entered, as he thought it would be more convenient for Members to be able to rely on the Saturday Order Paper than to have to consult the Paper every day, which would have to be done if the renewal was to be within a week after the date of Notice being given. The House had, in an earlier part of the Session, approved of an Amendment to the Standing Order which he had proposed, and which now formed the second part of the Standing Order; and he hoped, if the first part of the present Amendment, as to the number necessary to validate a block, was not acceptable to the House, that, at all events, the second part of it, providing for a renewal of the Notice of opposition, might be approved of. In accordance with a suggestion from a high authority, he had slightly altered the form of the Amendment, so as to make it a Proviso; and he would now move the Amendment to which he had referred.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the said Standing. Order, as amended, to add the words "Provided, That every such Notice of Opposition or Amendment be signed in the House by six Members at the least, and six names he kept on the Order Book to make such Notice valid; and that such Notice shall lapse at the end of the week following that in which it was given unless renewed by the Friday in that week."—(Sir Henry Holland.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he would propose to substitute three Members for six, believing that that number would answer all the purposes required.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to leave out the word "six," and insert the word "three," —(Lord Randolph Churchill,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the word 'six' stand part of the said proposed Amendment."


said, that it was not very often that it was his good for- tune to find himself in agreement with Her Majesty's Government; but upon this occasion he must endorse the arguments brought forward on Friday night by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson) with regard to this subject, because he thought them conclusive, and that the right of any individual Member of Parliament to give Notice of opposition to a Bill ought not to be infringed. He was prepared, however, to admit, with the hon. Baronet (Sir Henry Holland), that there might be something to be said for the latter part of the Amendment, providing that there ought to be a renewal of the blocking Notice every week, although he would rather, for his own part, leave the matter as it already stood.


said, that the Amendment, if accepted, would strike a severe blow at the Half-past Twelve o'clock Rule. He, therefore, felt bound to oppose it altogether, for, in his opinion, it would be much better to keep the present block system as it now stood. He might remind the House what was meant by blocking a Bill. It had often been said to be unjust to the House to block a Bill; but it meant no more than this—that the Member who, under a deep sense of public responsibility, put down the Notice of opposition, found a Bill on which so much difference of opinion existed that, in his judgment, it ought not to be discussed late at night. A man who blocked a Bill, in such circumstances, deserved not to be reprobated, but to be hailed as a public benefactor. By doing so he saved others from being kept in their places till the early hours of the morning. He appealed to the Prime Minister to maintain the compromise which had been accepted by the House.


contended that the systematic blocking of Bills which had prevailed for the last few years was altogether unlike the reasonable opposition described by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands). He would ask whether it was under a deep sense of public responsibility that the hon. Members (Mr. Biggar and Mr. Warton) had blocked so many Bills, and stopped half of the legislation of the country? If the hon. Member (Mr. Rylands) regarded those hon. Gentlemen who did that as public benefactors, the next suggestion would be the erection of statues in recognition of their distinguished services. His (Mr. Bryce's) experience was that the practice was not confined, as it should be, to important Public Bills. He hoped, therefore, that the Government would accept the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland), and would do what they could to relieve the present hardships of private Members. Indeed, he wished that the number "six" should be made "twelve," with a view of stopping the vexatious blocking of Bills. It might be easy to get together the smaller number of Members, but not the larger number; and a block when effected by 12 Members would be a more bonâ fide block. He believed that the acceptance of the Amendment by the Government would remove a great deal of the harshest and worst features of this Rule.


said, he, once for all, fully accepted the compliment paid him by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), and did not hesitate to regard himself as a public benefactor, because his opposition had been productive of a great deal of public good. He did not wish to detain the House with a long catalogue of his legislative virtues in that respect; but he might mention that he had blocked several Bills, and that, by his opposition to Government measures, he had obtained justice for poor lunatics by securing for them four instead of two visits of inspection annually. He had also, by the same process of "blocking," obtained an extension of time for poor writers in sheriffs' offices in Scotland, whose rights would otherwise have been abolished without compensation. He would say, however, that before taking that step he always took care to find out what they were about; and, in doing so, he frequently found that not only the House, but Committees, had overlooked the most important provisions. The Amendment of the hon. Baronet (Sir Henry Holland) started on the baseless theory of the imaginary Member who blocked a Bill and ran away. He (Mr. Warton) was not that Member. Besides being obscure and making no provision for Wednesdays, it was based on a wrong hypothesis, and was in every way less satisfactory than the proposals of the Government. He, therefore, trusted the Prime Minister would give no sanction to the proposition under discussion.


said, he was astonished at the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), who had drawn a fancy picture of the operation of the Rule. Even if it had no application to Bills, it would still be important as affecting the Motions of private Members, whose Business would be little, if at all, promoted by the other Rules. He considered the Amendment moved by the hon. Baronet (Sir Henry Holland) would allow the Half-past Twelve o'clock Rule to work with all its former efficiency, while it would remove certain existing abuses. He hoped the Government would accept the Amendment. It was not too much to ask that those who blocked Bills should watch for the coming round of the Friday, so as to renew their block if it were necessary.


said, he was far more in accordance with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) than with the Amendment. On the whole, the Rule seemed to have worked well, rather than ill. He would suggest that the hon. Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland) should give up the first part of the Amendment as to the number of Members, and move only the second part, as to the weekly renewal of the block, for the alteration that would be effected by the first part would so weaken the Rule as to make it ineffectual. The object of the Rule was to stop important legislation, which ought not to go on after midnight. If the Amendment went to a division in its present form he would be obliged to vote against it.


said, he hoped the Government would adhere to the Rule as it stood. He believed it had been abused; but, on the whole, it had done much good. He thought the Amendment would lead to a great deal of inconvenience and confusion, owing to the difficulties in the way of securing the renewed assents of six Members every Friday.


said, he thought it was clear from what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson) that the Government would adhere to their original proposal. The blocks of the hon. Members for Bridport (Mr. Warton) and Cavan (Mr. Biggar) had been secretly, if not openly, supported by a large number of Members; and he had reason to believe that a right hon. Gentleman sitting on the Government Bench had incited the hon. Member for Cavan to block a certain Bill. The question was also repeatedly asked in the Lobbies whether someone was not going to block a Bill which Members generally did not wish to come on at a late hour. He was glad the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) was no longer tongue-tied, but could express his opinions freely. He should not object to the acceptance of the last part of the Amendment; but he thought it would be wise and prudent to adhere to the Rule as it stood.


said, he hoped the Government would accept the Amendment. For a Member in charge of a Bill blocked by the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) life was not worth having. He believed that if the two Front Benches knew what difficulties were in the way of private Members in getting any legislation at all, they would support the Amendment, which he considered a most fair one. He supposed the Votes issued on the Saturday morning would show whether a block had been taken off or not?


said, he was not in favour of the first part of the Amendment, for instances had occurred in which all Bills had been blocked by one Member, and it would hardly be possible to get three Members to join in such a proceeding. Therefore, he did not think it would be any use altering the Rule in that respect. He felt it was necessary to guard against private Members putting down their Bills night after night, and keeping many Members in their places to resist them. He would, however, like to see the second part of the Amendment carried, necessitating a Member who blocked a Bill to renew the block every week. He considered that really good, and hoped the Government would accept it.


said, the way in which hon. Members regarded Amendments which tended to limit the application of the Rule would naturally depend on the view they took of the value of the Rule itself. They were too apt to forget the value of the Rule, because their attention had been be frequently called to its abuse. If the Rule were not in existence, an active private Member, who found that the Government, or a large section of the House, were opposed to his Bill, would put it down for every night in the Session. At the same time, he would not be bound to declare on which night he intended seriously to bring it forward. Thus, the majority who were against the Bill must attend every night in the Session in sufficient numbers to defeat the Bill, or else the Member in charge of it might, when he had a temporary majority in his favour, slip his Bill through. He did not think it fair to any Government or to the House that any Member should have that power; and, therefore, he thought the Rule must, in some shape or other, if not in its present one, remain on the Standing Orders. With regard to the Amendment, so far as it concerned the greatest abuse of the Rule—that where a Member blocked a Bill, and then perhaps went away for three months, without caring anything as to the convenience of the House in the matter—he did not think any attempt to increase, as it did, the number of persons who intended to block a Bill, would prevent that abuse, because it would be perfectly possible to get three Members to block any particular Bill, or any number of Bills; and if the block were really a legitimate one, intended to prevent the discussion of a measure at a time when it could not be thoroughly discussed, it was not fair to impose on those who opposed the Bill the necessity of getting others to support thorn in their opposition. It might, however, be fair to require a Member to renew his block from time to time. Such a proposal would have many arguments to recommend it; and, if it were satisfactory to both sides of the House, there was no possible question of principle which could prevent the Government from accepting it.


said, that he had been a sufferer from the Half-past Twelve o'clock Rule, as he was interested in many Metropolitan measures, which did not usually come on until a late hour. He thought it a grievous injustice that men were permitted to put their names down in opposition to a measure without their personal attendance being also required. He hoped that, if the Government could not accept the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland), they would accept the proposal just shadowed forth by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade.


said, he deeply regretted the decision of the Government. There was a strong feeling that single Members had abused the privilege of blocking Bills—that, seemingly, being the only function of some Members. He hoped the Government would accept the Amendment requiring three Members for a block, if they did not accept six.


also supported the Amendment. He objected to the continuance of a system under which such a Member as the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) should regulate the amount of legislation passing through the House.


said, he hoped the Government would accept the proposal of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill). It would do no harm to the Rule, and prevent, at least, the gross abuse of it. He held that it was a scandal that one Member was able to block as many Bills as he chose.


, in opposing the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), said, that, if it were accepted, it would so whittle away the Rule as to render it worthless. As a matter of fact, its whole effect might be put on one side by the accidental absence of one of the three Members. But he objected to both Amendments. The principle of the Membership of the House was based upon individual action; and he should be sorry to see that principle interfered with. Every hon. Member who had spoken in favour of the Amendments had, like the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Truro (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg), the hon. Member for West Corn-wall(Mr. Arthur Vivian), and the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock), a destroyed Bill in his pocket. They were all a noble Army of Martyrs, who, not being able to carry their own little schemes, wished to continue to administer something in infinitesimally small doses to the House which would have the effect of making life miserable to all other hon. Members. Notwithstanding their sufferings, he hoped the Government would stand by their Resolution.


said, the argument of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) cut both ways. If so many Members had suffered by the existing Rule there was good reason for its repeal. Blocking Bills ought to be made a difficult matter; and he, therefore, supported the Amendment requiring that six should be the number for carrying that process into effect. Even if three Members were required to do so, the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) would not lose his title to be called a benefactor; he would only have to admit others to the monopoly.


said, he thought care ought to be taken, in driving away one abuse, not to introduce another. He feared that if the Amendment were carried, one Member would block one Bill in consideration of another's blocking another Bill. Thus a system of joint-stock blocking would be brought into play, to which he would have the strongest objection. He hoped the Government would keep to the Rule as it stood.


said, he should have been strongly inclined to vote for the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland), except that it did not make provision for the removal of the block. One Member would, by his absence or by not co-operating with his fellow-blockers, destroy the block. He thought the Government had sufficiently met the difficulty; but he hoped they would accept the second part of the hon. Member for Midhurst's Amendment, providing that the block should be renewed once a week.


said, that the subject before the House was a difficult one, and he did not very distinctly see his way in the matter. He felt bound to admit that there had been a considerable abuse of the Rule by "public benefactors." He must own, also, that he had a considerable jealousy of the multiplication or creation of new quorums. Of late they had had occasion to create a good many; and he had no wish to go further in that respect than he possibly could help. For instance, they had a quorum of 200 for one purpose, a quorum of 100 for another purpose, there was the old and venerable quorum of 40 for a third purpose, a quorum of 20 for a fourth purpose, a quorum of 10 for a fifth purpose; and he certainly had objections to the creation of another quorum unless he very distinctly saw his way with respect to it, and at present he did not see his way. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. R. H. Paget) had rightly called attention to the danger that existed of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Henry Holland) leading to a system of combinations for blocking Bills—to a system of exchange and mutual assistance and assurance societies in the blocking of Bills. It would be likely to lead to a more extended and better organized form, of opposition to a Bill. Now, that was unadvisable, for organized opposition was not wanted. What was wanted was free discussion. As he could not see how these small combinations would work, he viewed them with some apprehension. He would admit that the renewal of the Notice would be a considerable check. Indeed, he had not the least doubt that the necessity of coming down to the House and writing an objection from Friday to Friday would be a very considerable check upon any tendency that had heretofore existed to a wanton use of this Rule. There was considerable force, too, in the observations of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn). He was afraid that an equally complicated machinery for the withdrawal of blocks would be necessary as for their imposition. There was another point he might mention. The House looked a great deal to the Government, and justly so—he meant to the Government of the day—for checking what he might call officious legislation of a certain kind; and he thought that if the House were to accept this Rule, and look to the Government to adopt this method of checking the blocking power, the exercise of such a right by official men would be extremely invidious. He admitted there was great difficulty in the case. For his own part, he must own that he did not see his way sufficiently to be responsible for the creation of a new quorum in the matter. With respect to a check against the abuse of the Rule, he did not feel that they had before them a perfect scheme; but, on the whole, he considered that, as he had said, the proposal that a block should be renewed week by week, though not an entirely sufficient check, was a very considerable one; therefore he thought they would be acting more safely if they took the course suggested by the last half of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Henry Holland), and rejected the first part.


said, he rose to Order; for, unless there was need, he should hardly like to trouble the House with a division. He therefore wished to know whether, as the Government had expressed a favourable opinion on the latter part of the Amendment, he might move the second part —that was, the clause after the word "valid," and abandon the first part?


said, he would point out that the Question immediately before the House was whether the word "six" should stand part of the Amendment, and until that question was disposed of the Amendment could not be altered.


said, he intended to vote for the Amendment as it stood, and he hoped the hon. Brronet the Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland) would go to a division. He himself intended to get as much legislation, and as quickly as possible, out of the House; and he thought that placing in the hands of a single Member the power to stop discussion, was likely to act prejudicially against progress. He could not himself understand upon what principle the Prime Minister opposed the first part of the Amendment, seeing that he had already, in previous Resolutions, established a considerable number of quorums. He thought, looking at the necessity there was for some limitation to be placed upon the power of blocking Bills, that the number "six" might with advantage be even increased to "twenty."


said, he would suggest that a way out of the difficulty might be found in putting it to the House, that the numbers "three" or "six" should stand part of the Amendment; and, after those questions were negatived, the latter part of the Resolution might be put.


said, he differed from the hon. Member for Galway Borough (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). He (Mr. Biggar) thought it desirable that one Member should have the power of saying that a Bill should not pass a stage without discussion. He did not think that, under any pretence, the stage of a Bill should be proposed after half-past 12 o'clock. As to the latter part of the Amendment, he did not see the advantage of putting Members to the trouble of going to the Table every Friday and re-entering blocks to a Bill. The only result of it would be to give more trouble to the Clerks at the Table.


said, it was his full intention to support the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland), because the Half-past Twelve o'clock Rule, perhaps more than any other of the proposed Rules, precluded the possibility of private Members obtaining the judgment of the House on the Bills they brought forward. As it was proposed, the Rule provided for the wants and necessities of the Government, and it shut out private Members entirely. He complained strongly, in regard to the whole of those Rules, that the Government appeared to consider that they constituted the only section of the House which was entitled to facilities; and when they secured facilities for the measures they deemed of importance, they seemed to think that everything else might go by the board, and that the wishes of private Members and their constituents were to be entirely disregarded in connection with the result of the labours of Parliament. The Half-past Twelve o'clock Rule was a modern innovation. It had existed as a Standing Order during the last two or three Sessions only. Before that time, of so little importance was it considered by the then Government, that the proposition that it should be in force as a Sessional Order was left to a private Member. Now, however, they found the Rule adopted by the Government in its most objectionable form, by which they prevented the possibility of a private Member's Bill that had been read a second time on a Wednesday getting through the Committee stage. It would be better to hand over the Wednesdays to the Government, if the object of the Resolutions was to save time, and enable Parliament to proceed to a definite conclusion on the matters brought before it; because the time spent in getting private Members' Bills read a second time on Wednesday, if they were not allowed to reach their further stages, would be practically lost both to the House and the country. Some opportunity ought to be afforded, by the modification of the Rule, for private Members to pass their Bills through Committee; and he therefore proposed, after the Amendment of the hon. Baronet was disposed of, to move an Amendment to except from the operation of the Rule Bills which had been read a second time on a Wednesday.


said, he rose for the purpose of explaining that, assuming that the words of the Amendment requiring six names to be attached to a blocking Notice were negatived, and also that the further proposal that there should be three names were negatived, the Government thought that the word "Members" should be changed into "a Member." Then the Amendment would run "and such Notice shall lapse at the end of the week following that on which it was given." He would take the opportunity of saying that the course proposed to be taken by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork would not be a satisfactory one.


said, he would accept the Prime Minister's suggestion as to the second part of the Amendment.

Question put.

The House divided:.—Ayes 39; Noes 147: Majority 108.—(Div. List, No. 381.)

Question put, "That the word 'three' be there inserted."

The House divided:—Ayes 52; Noes 126: Majority 74.—(Div. List, No. 382.)

Amendment proposed to said proposed Amendment, to insert, after the word "Member," the words "and dated."—(Captain Aylmer.)

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment amended, by leaving out the word "Members," and inserting the words "a Member, and dated, and," instead thereof; and by leaving out the words "at the least, and six names be kept on the Order Book to make such Notice valid, and that such Notice;" and also by leaving out the words "unless renewed by the Friday in that week."—(Mr. Gladstone.)

Question, "That those words 'Provided, That every such Notice of Opposition or Amendment be signed in the House by a Member, and dated, and shall lapse at the end of the week following that in which it was given,' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the said Standing Order, as amended, to add the words "Provided also, That this Rule shall not apply to the nomination of Select Committees; and if objection be taken by any Member of the House to the name of any Member nominated on a Select Committee, the vote of the House on such a nomination shall be taken without Debate."—(Mr. Thorold Rogers.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he did not see that the necessity for that Proviso was very great, because the cases which his hon. Friend (Mr. Thorold Rogers) desired to guard against were very rare where any difficulty had been felt. Besides, he thought, it would be inconvenient to allow a decision to be taken on the appointment of any individual Member in the manner proposed by his hon. Friend, and, therefore, that the latter part of the Amendment should not be accepted. As regarded the first portion of the Amendment down to the word "Committees," he was prepared to accept it, and he would suggest the insertion of the word "also" after "provided."


asked whether the Rule was to apply to the nomination only of the Committee?




said, he was quite willing to accept that modification of his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed, To add, at the end of the said Standing Order, as amended, the words "Provided also, That this Rule shall not apply to the nomination of Select Committees."—(Mr. Gladstone.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, that, the Government having accepted that Amendment, he did not see why they should not go further, so as to include the appointment of Select Committees, as well as the nomination of them. The Amendment was, he believed, another intrench- ment on the rights of private Members. It would throw into the hands of the Government any nomination for a Select Committee which they might choose to bring on after half-past 12. The same Rule that applied to the nomination ought also to be applied to the appointment of such Committees.


said, he was sorry that the Government could not accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). He would remind the hon. Member that there was a great distinction between the appointment and the nomination of a Committee. The question of the appointment of a Committee might give rise to a great deal of discussion with respect to the policy of the inquiry; but that was not the case in respect to the nomination of the Members who were to sit upon it.


remarked that, if the appointment of Select Committees were exempted from the Half-past Twelve Rule, they would have every conceivable question raised in that form. Hon. Members could put any Motion they chose into the form of a Motion for a Committee of Inquiry.


said, he felt bound to oppose the Amendment, on the ground that it would throw the nomination of Select Committees absolutely into the hands of the Government.


said, that, at the present time, Select Committees were appointed by the Whips, although private Members who had moved for the appointment of the Committee had some slight influence in the nomination. If the composition of a Select Committee was of a partial and unrepresentative character, then the only resource left to private Members was by blocking the nomination. But it was proposed to take this power away. He knew cases in which, on railway and insurance questions, as many as six or seven railway or insurance directors respectively had been appointed on the Committees. He hoped the Amendment would not be accepted.


said, he hoped that the Government would not give their assent to the proposal, which was calculated to take the House at a disadvantage, and to incapacitate, further than was already done by the New Rules, the minority for the time being.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 78; Noes 20: Majority 58.—(Div. List, No. 383.)


said, he rose to move, in a slightly altered form from the way in which it had been originally framed and printed, an Amendment which stood in the name of his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton). Those alterations which had been made in it were found necessary, to his (Mr. Clarke's) regret, in consequence of the changes which had been made in the Rule by the Amendments which had been adopted. As altered, it provided— That when such business as may he taken has been disposed of, or at Half-past One of the Clock precisely, notwithstanding there may be business under discussion, Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question: Provided always, That when the Division on an Amendment has not been concluded until after Half-past One the Original or Main Question, may, if no Debate arise thereupon, be put by Mr. Speaker, and a Division taken after Half-past One. His noble Friend stated last week that there was no Legislative Assembly in the world which sat more than half the number of hours occupied by that Chamber. That was the last attempt which could be made in the course of the discussion of those Rules to secure a fixed period for the adjournment of the House. The average length of their Sittings, taking four nights a week, was 10¼ hours, or nearly double the length of time occupied by any other Legislative Assembly; and if the proposal were adopted it would reduce the time to 9½ or 9¾ hours per night. No one could say that that would not leave a sufficiency of time on an average for the discharge of Public Business. Two answers only had been given to the proposal. One was the jocose answer of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) that the best of all ways to lengthen our days was to spend the hours of the night in discussing Bills. The other answer was that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who said that if an hour was fixed the result would be a prolongation of the debates by Members wishing to get rid of certain measures, and that thus more time would be lost. Now, no one would deny that the long hours which the House sat imposed a severe strain on many hon. Members. He thought it a good thing for the Tory Party that the Tory Ministry went out in 1880, for had they remained in Office for another 12 months some of their most prominent and useful Members would have been incapacitated from discharging their duties, for they were breaking down under the strain. Private Members also felt the burden; and, therefore, the House did not get the full benefit of their assistance, as many of them were obliged to leave the House before the end of its Sitting. Further, many persons well qualified to take part in the deliberations of Parliament were deterred from entering the House because they were afraid of the great injury to their health from the prolonged hours; but a still greater and stronger argument than that appeared to him to be involved in the question of publicity. He quite agreed that legislation should go on with increased rapidity, but distinctly thought it would be better not to legislate than to do so, as far as the public were concerned, in the dark. The public knew nothing of the debates after 12 o'clock, and the country did not derive half the advantage it otherwise might from legislation after that hour, as it had no knowledge of its nature. The Government must have very little confidence in the Rules which they had passed and were passing, if the argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite was of any value. The Resolutions for preventing unnecessary debate and tedious repetition must surely be expected by the Government to have some substantial effect.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


resumed, saying that the only objection to the Amendment was that it would encourage Obstruction by tempting men to talk on particular questions up till half-past 1; but there was no substantial reason why the Sittings of the House should not be concluded at a reasonable time; and both the health of the Members and the necessity for publishing the debates was an argument in favour of the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To add, at the end of the said Standing Order, as amended, the words "Provided also, That, when such business as may be taken has been disposed of, or at Half-past One of the Clock precisely, notwithstanding there may he business under discussion, Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House, without putting any Question: Provided always, That when the Division on an Amendment has not been concluded until after Half-past One, the Original or Main Question may, if no Debate arise thereupon, be put by Mr. Speaker, and a Division taken after Half-past One."—(Mr. Edward Clarke.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he must oppose the Amendment on behalf of the Government. It was admitted that the hours during which the House sat were very long, and that it would be desirable to curtail them; but he (the Attorney General) would ask how, if they could not now transact the Business of the country, it would be possible to do it if they accepted this Amendment? They would, if they agreed to it, deprive themselves of a portion of the time which was now usually occupied, and give power to any Member to talk out a question by continuing the debate up till half-past 1. As a great mass of unopposed Business had to be dealt with at the end of each day's Sitting, the result of adopting the Amendment would be to give any individual Member the means of talking it out; and, in fact, one Member would be able to bring the Business of the House to a close at half-past 1, preventing a division being taken which would be desired by the great majority. In that case the present evils would be greatly aggravated.


observed, that the Amendment met with the approval of many hon. Members, though the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, who, as a Law Officer of the Crown, was supposed never to need sleep, was not in its favour. Every hon. Member ought to sympathize with a proposal which limited the Sitting of that House to nine hours and a-half daily. Surely that was enough for any deliberative Assembly. Nor was it unnatural that some such limit as this should be proposed, particularly as a great many Members would find their work much increased if the Government scheme of Grand Committees were carried out. He did not see what answer there was to the argument that if the New Rules were to be of so much use they ought to enable the House to shorten the duration of its Sittings. He was in favour of limiting them, and they must come to it at some time, for they could not go on as they were now doing. It was utterly impossible that human strength could support such lengthened Sittings. They must come to such a proposal as this some day or other, or the difficulty would possibly be met by some Member proposing the adjournment at half-past 12 every Sitting. Still, it might not be expedient to press the matter to a division at the present time.


said, the reply of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General would have been more conclusive if the New Rules had not been passed. He believed the practical effect of a Rule of this kind would be that, in case there was a disposition to decide a question, when they came to half-past 12 the Speaker would be driven to apply the clôture in a reasonable way. At that hour the Speaker would probably be bound to declare that it was the "evident sense of the House" that the debate should close; a division would then be taken, and there would remain half or three-quarters of an hour, during which Public Business practically unopposed might be taken. He wished the Amendment had been put in a shape in which it could have been better considered. He agreed with the view that when they were reforming their Rules they should try to get rid of this terrible evil of carrying on legislative Business in the small hours of the morning. Old Members of the House of Commons had been debauched by the late hours they had kept for many years. Suppose a General Election should result in the return of men not debauched by these late hours, they would be unanimous in their determination to rise at a reasonable hour.


said, that as one who had held the Offices of First Commissioner of Works and of Postmaster General, he took a very serious view of the evil results of prolonged Sittings on the working staff of the House, whose constitutions were thereby subjected to an excessive strain.


viewed the Amendment as a most reasonable one, and believed that the Government would only aggravate its difficulties by attempting to force on Business after half-past 1 o'clock. If the House adopted the Amendment it would arrive a little sooner at the solution of the question how the work of the country was to be effectively carried on. It would, perhaps, enable Members to see that in the splitting up of the labour of the House rested the only chance of its fulfilling its functions.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 33; Noes 76: Majority 43.—(Div. List, No. 384.)

Question proposed, "That the said Standing Order, as amended, be agreed to."


desired to add to the Standing Order the following Proviso:— Provided, That this Rule shall not apply to any Order of the Day which may have progressed through the stage of second reading on any Wednesday. He proposed this Proviso in the interests of private Members who might be so fortunate as to obtain the second reading of a Bill on a Wednesday. If they succeeded in achieving such an almost unheard of feat, they could not, under this Proviso, be blocked on the Committee and subsequent stages by a Member preventing it from coming on after half-past 12 o'clock by signing his name.


rose to Order. He apprehended that the House had already disposed of this question on the Motion of the hon. Member for Gloucester.


said that when the hon. Member for the City of Cork first placed this Amendment in his hands it seemed to him that it might be put; but, on further consideration, it appeared to him that it could not be put, as the question had been practically decided.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 100; Noes 12: Majority 88.—(Div. List, No. 385.)

Half-past Twelve o'clock Rule.

[Standing Order of 18 February 1879, amended 9 May and 20 November 1882.]

(8.) Resolved, That, except for a Money Bill, no Order of the Day or Notice of Motion be taken after half-past Twelve of the clock at night, with respect to which Order or Notice of Motion a Notice of Opposition or Amendment shall have been printed on the Notice Paper, or if such Notice of Motion shall only have been given the next previous day of sitting, and objection shall be taken when such Notice is called.

That Motions for the appointment or nomination of Standing Committees and Proceedings made in accordance with the provisions of any Act of Parliament or Standing Order, Motions for leave to bring in Bills, and Bills which have passed through Committee of the whole House, be excepted from the operation of this Order.

Provided, That every such Notice of Opposition or Amendment be signed in the House by a Member, and dated, and shall lapse at the end of the week following that on which it was given.

Provided also, That this Rule shall not apply to the nomination of Select Committees.